Animals at the extremes: the desert environment
Animals at the extremes: the desert environment

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2.5.1 Summary of Section 2

Desert animals are classified in terms of their body size and physiology into three groups: evaders, evaporators and endurers. The logic for this classification is that the smaller the animal, the larger its surface area to volume ratio. Small animals therefore gain and lose heat faster than large animals, warming rapidly when exposed to intense solar radiation, and cooling rapidly at night. Small endothermic evaders, e.g. kangaroo rats, rest in cool microenvironments, e.g. shade or burrows, during the day. Lizards, ectothermic evaders, regulate T b during the day by shuttling between sun and shelter. They avoid night-time hypothermia by resting in burrows. Nocturnal evaporators, e.g. kit foxes, remain in cool dens during the day. Some endurers, large species such as the oryx, graze nocturnally in summer, sitting in shade during the day. Behavioural strategies for avoiding intense solar radiation link intimately to physiology. Such behaviour prevents large fluctuations in T b and conserves water by removing the need for evaporative cooling, which is of crucial importance in deserts where water is scarce.

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