Cold climate specialization: Adaptive covariation between metabolic rate and thermoregulation in pregnant vipers

Olivier Lourdais, Michaël Guillon, Dale Denardo, Gabriel Blouin-Demers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


We compared thermoregulatory strategies during pregnancy in two congeneric viperid snakes (Vipera berus and Vipera aspis) with parapatric geographic ranges. V. berus is a boreal specialist with the largest known distribution among terrestrial snakes while V. aspis is a south-European species. Despite contrasted climatic affinities, the two species displayed identical thermal preferences (Tset) in a laboratory thermal gradient. Under identical natural conditions, however, V. berus was capable of maintaining Tset for longer periods, especially when the weather was constraining. Consistent with the metabolic cold adaptation hypothesis, V. berus displayed higher standard metabolic rate at all temperatures considered. We used the thermal dependence of metabolic rate to calculate daily metabolic profiles from body temperature under natural conditions. The boreal specialist experienced higher daily metabolic rate and minimized gestation duration chiefly because of differences in the metabolic reaction norms, but also superior thermoregulatory efficiency. Under cold climates, thermal constraints should make precise thermoregulation costly. However, a shift in the metabolic reaction norm may compensate for thermal constraints and modify the cost-benefit balance of thermoregulation. Covariation between metabolic rate and thermoregulation efficiency is likely an important adaptation to cold climates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-155
Number of pages7
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
StatePublished - Jul 2 2013


  • Boreal climate
  • Ectotherm
  • Gestation
  • Metabolism
  • Thermoregulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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