Polar Biology

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 308–319 | Cite as

Seasonal variations in basal metabolic rate, lower critical temperature and responses to temporary starvation in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) from Svalbard

  • Britt N. Fuglesteg
  • Øyvind E. Haga
  • Lars P. Folkow
  • Eva Fuglei
  • Arnoldus Schytte BlixEmail author
Original Paper


Metabolic rates of four resting, post-absorptive male adult summer- and winter-adapted captive arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) were recorded. Basal metabolic rates (BMR) varied seasonally with a 36% increase from winter to summer, while body mass was reduced by 17% in the same period. The lower critical temperature (T 1c) of the winter-adapted arctic fox was estimated to −7°C, whereas T lc during summer was 5°C. The similarity of these values, which are much higher than hitherto assumed (e.g. Scholander et al. 1950b), is mainly due to a significantly (P<0.05) lower BMR in winter than in summer. Body core (stomach) temperature was stable, even at ambient temperatures as low as −45°C, but showed a significant (P<0.05) seasonal variation, being lower in winter (39.3±0.33°C) than in summer (39.8±0.16°C). The thermal conductivity of arctic fox fur was the same during both seasons, whereas the thermal conductance in winter was lower than in summer. This was reflected in an increase in fur thickness of 140% from summer to winter, and in a reduced metabolic response to ambient temperatures below T lc in winter. Another four arctic foxes were exposed to three periods of forced starvation, each lasting 8 days during winter, when body mass is in decline. No significant reduction in mass specific BMR was observed during the exposure to starvation, and respiratory quotient was unchanged at 0.73±0.02 during the first 5 days, but dropped significantly (P<0.05) to 0.69±0.03 at day 7. Locomotor activity and body core (intraperitoneal) temperature was unaltered throughout the starvation period, but body mass was reduced by 18.5±2.1% during these periods. Upon re-feeding, locomotor activity was significantly (P<0.05) reduced for about 6 days. Energy intake was almost doubled, but stabilised at normal levels after 11 days. Body mass increased, but not to the level before the starvation episodes. Instead, body mass increased until it reached the reduced body mass of ad libitum fed control animals. This indicates that body mass in the arctic fox is regulated according to a seasonally changing set point.


Metabolic Rate Locomotor Activity Basal Metabolic Rate Body Core Rest Metabolic Rate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Professor James B. Mercer for help during the initial phase of the study, Hans P. Bergland for assistance in capturing foxes in Svalbard, Hans E. Lian for help in maintaining the animals at Tromsø, and professor Lars Walløe, University of Oslo, for assistance in connection with statistical analyses. This study was financed in part by contributions from the Roald Amundsen Center for Arctic Research, University of Tromsø.


  1. Blaxter KL (1989) Energy metabolism in animal and man. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Braestrup FW (1941) A study of the arctic fox in Greenland. Meddelelser om Grønland 131:1–101Google Scholar
  3. Casey TM, Withers PC, Casey KK (1979) Metabolic and respiratory responses of arctic mammals to ambient temperature during the summer. Comp Biochem Physiol 64A:331–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Dalén L, Fuglei E, Hersteinsson P, Kapel CMO, Roth JD, Samelius G, Tannerfeldt M, Angerbjörn A (2005) Population history and genetic structure of a circumpolar species: the arctic fox. Biol J Linnean Soc 84:79–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Follmann EH (1978) Behavioral thermoregulation of arctic foxes in winter. In: Klewe HJ, Himmick HP (eds) Biotelemetry IV. Academic Press, New York, pp 171–174Google Scholar
  6. Fourier J (1822) Théorie analytique de la chaleur. Didot, Paris (cited by Kleiber 1972)Google Scholar
  7. Fuglei E (2000) Physiological adaptations of the arctic fox to high arctic conditions. Dr. Scient. Thesis, University of Oslo, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  8. Fuglei E, Øritsland NA (1999) Seasonal trends in body mass, food intake and resting metabolic rate, and induction of metabolic depression in arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) at Svalbard. J Comp Physiol B 169:361–369CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Fuglei E, Øritsland NA (2003) Energy cost of running in an arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Can Field Nat 117:430–435Google Scholar
  10. Fuglei E, Aanestad M, Berg JP (2000) Hormones and metabolites of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) in response to seasonal variations, starvation and re-feeding. Comp Biochem Physiol A 126:287–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fuglei E, Mercer JB, Arnemo JM (2002) Surgical implantation of radio transmitters in arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) on Svalbard, Norway. J Zoo Wildl Med 33:342–349PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Haga ØE (1993) En årstidsstudie i energetikk hos polarrev (Alopex lagopus) fra Svalbard. Cand. Scient. Thesis, University of Tromsø, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  13. Henshaw RE, Underwood LS, Casey TM (1972) Peripheral thermoregulation: foot temperature in two arctic canines. Science 175:988–990PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hohtola E (1982) Thermal and electromyographic correlates of shivering thermogenesis in the pigeon. Comp Biochem Physiol A73:159–166CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Irving L (1972) Arctic life of birds and mammals. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, pp 166–167Google Scholar
  16. Irving L, Krog J (1954) Body temperature of arctic and subarctic birds and mammals. J Appl Physiol 6:667–680PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Irving L, Krog J (1955) Temperature of skin in the Arctic as a regulator of heat. J Appl Physiol 7:355–364PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. IUPS Commission for Thermal Physiology (2001) Glossary of terms for thermal physiology. Jpn J Physiol 51:245–280Google Scholar
  19. Kleiber M (1961) The fire of life: an introduction to animal energetics. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Kleiber M (1972) A new Newton’s law of cooling? Science 178:1283–1285PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Korhonen H, Harri M, Hohtola E (1985) Response to cold in the blue fox and racoon dog as evaluated by metabolism, heart rate and muscular shivering: a re-evaluation. Comp Biochem Physiol 82A:959–964CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kvadsheim PH, Folkow LP, Blix AS (1994) A new device for measurement of the thermal conductivity of fur and blubber. J Therm Biol 19:431–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Macpherson AH (1969) The dynamics of Canadian arctic fox populations. Can Wild Serv Rep Ser 8:1–52Google Scholar
  24. Mortensen A, Blix AS (1985) Seasonal changes in the effect of starvation on metabolic rate and regulation of body weight in Svalbard ptarmigan. Ornis Scand 16:20–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mrosovsky N, Powley TL (1977) Set points for body weight and fat. Behav Biol 20:205–223CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Mrosovsky N, Sherry DF (1980) Animal anorexias. Science 207:837–842PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Prestrud P (1982) Årstidsvariasjoner i basalmetabolisme og fettlagring hos fjellreven (Alopex lagopus) på Svalbard. Cand. Scient. Thesis, University of Oslo, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  28. Prestrud P, Nilssen K (1992) Fat deposition and seasonal variation in body composition of arctic foxes in Svalbard. J Wildl Manage 56:221–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Ringberg T, Nilssen K, Strøm E (1980) Do Svalbard reindeer use their subcutaneous fat as insulation? Proceedings of the 2nd international Reindeer/Caribou Symposium, Røros, Norway, pp 392–395Google Scholar
  30. Robin J-P, Boucontet L, Chilet P, Groscolas R (1998) Behavioural changes in fasting emperor penguins: evidence for a “refeeding signal” linked to a metabolic shift. Am J Physiol 274:R746–R753PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Scholander PF, Walters V, Hock R, Irving L (1950a) Body insulation of some arctic and tropical mammals and birds. Biol Bull 99:225–236PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Scholander PF, Hock R, Walters V, Johnson F, Irving L (1950b) Heat regulation in some arctic and tropical mammals and birds. Biol Bull 99:237–258PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Scholander PF, Hock R, Walters V, Irving L (1950c) Adaptation to cold in arctic and tropical mammals and birds in relation to body temperature, insulation, and basal metabolic rate. Biol Bull 99:259–271PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Schultz TD, Ferguson JH (1974) The fatty acid composition of subcutaneous, omental and inguinal adipose tissue in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus innuitus). Comp Biochem Physiol 49B:65–69Google Scholar
  35. Segal AN, Popovic TV, Vajn-Rib MA (1976) Some ecophysiological characteristics of the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) (Translated into English by the Norwegian Polar Institute, Oslo, Norway). Zool Zurn 5:741–754Google Scholar
  36. Sklepkovych BD, Montevecchi WA (1996) Food availability and food hoarding behaviour by red and arctic foxes. Arctic 49:228–234Google Scholar
  37. Tauson A-H, Chwalibog A, Ahlstrøm Ø (2002) Substrate oxidation in male blue foxes (Alopex lagopus) during feeding, fasting and realimentation. J Nutr 132:1793S–1795SPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Tøien Ø (1992) Data acquisition in thermal physiology: measurements of shivering. J Therm Biol 17:357–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Underwood LS (1971) The bioenergetics of the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus L.). PhD Thesis, Pennsylvania State University, PA, USAGoogle Scholar
  40. Underwood LS, Reynolds P (1980) Photoperiod and fur lengths in the arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Int J Biometeor 24:39–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Britt N. Fuglesteg
    • 1
  • Øyvind E. Haga
    • 1
  • Lars P. Folkow
    • 1
  • Eva Fuglei
    • 2
  • Arnoldus Schytte Blix
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Arctic BiologyUniversity of TromsøTromsøNorway
  2. 2.Norwegian Polar InstituteTromsøNorway

Personalised recommendations