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Lizards, lipids, and dietary links to animal function.

  • Simandle, E T
  • Espinoza, R E
  • Nussear, K E
  • Tracy, C R
Published Article
Physiological and biochemical zoology : PBZ
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2001
PMID: 11517448


Our experiments were designed to test the hypotheses that dietary lipids can affect whole-animal physiological processes in a manner concordant with changes in the fluidity of cell membranes. We measured (1) the lipid composition of five tissues, (2) body temperatures selected in a thermal gradient (T(sel)), (3) the body temperature at which the righting reflex was lost (critical thermal minimal [CTMin]), and (4) resting metabolic rate (RMR) at three body temperatures in desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) fed diets enriched with either saturated or unsaturated fatty acids. The composition of lipids in tissues of the lizards generally reflected the lipids in their diets, but the particular classes and ratios of fatty acids varied among sampled organs, indicating the conservative nature of some tissues (e.g., brain) relative to others (e.g., depot fat). Lizards fed the diet enriched with saturated fatty acids selected warmer nighttime body temperatures than did lizards fed a diet enriched with unsaturated fatty acids. This difference is concordant with the hypothesis that the composition of dietary fats influences membrane fluidity and that ectotherms may compensate for such changes in fluidity by selecting different body temperatures. The CTMin of the two treatment groups was indistinguishable. This may reflect the conservatism of some tissues (e.g., brain) irrespective of diet treatment. The RMR of the saturated treatment group nearly doubled between 30 degrees and 40 degrees C. Here, some discrete membrane domains in the lizards fed the saturated diet may have been in a more-ordered phase at 30 degrees C and then transformed to a less-ordered phase at 40 degrees C. In contrast, the RMR of the unsaturated treatment group exhibited temperature independence in metabolic rate from 30 degrees to 40 degrees C. Perhaps the unsaturated diet resulted in membranes that developed a higher degree of disorder (i.e., a certain phase) at a lower temperature than were membranes of lizards fed the saturated diet. Our study demonstrates links between dietary fats and whole-animal physiology; however, the mechanistic basis of these links, and the general knowledge of lipid metabolism in squamate reptiles, remain poorly understood and warrant further study.

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