Christine E. Cooper, Philip C. Withers

Implications of heat exchange for a free-living endangered marsupial determined by non-invasive thermal imaging

  • Insect Science
  • Molecular Biology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Physiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

ABSTRACT We used thermal imagining and heat balance modelling to examine the thermal ecology of wild mammals, using the diurnal marsupial numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) as a model. Body surface temperature was measured using infra-red thermography at environmental wet and dry bulb temperatures of 11.7–29°C and 16.4–49.3°C, respectively; surface temperature varied for different body parts and with environmental temperature. Radiative and convective heat exchange varied markedly with environmental conditions and for various body surfaces reflecting their shapes, surface areas and projected areas. Both the anterior and posterior dorsolateral body areas functioned as thermal windows. Numbats in the shade had lower rates of solar radiative heat gain but non-solar avenues for radiative heat gain were substantial. Radiative gain was higher for black and lower for white stripes, but overall, the stripes had no thermal role. Total heat gain was generally positive (<4 to >20 W) and often greatly exceeded metabolic heat production (3–6 W). Our heat balance model indicates that high environmental heat loads limit foraging in open areas to as little as 10 min and that climate change may extend periods of inactivity, with implications for future conservation and management. We conclude that non-invasive thermal imaging is informative for modelling heat balance of free-living mammals.

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