Daily changes in food availability, but not long-term unpredictability, determine daily torpor-bout occurrences and frequency in stripe-faced dunnarts (Sminthopsis macroura)
Daily torpor, a short-term reduction in body temperature and metabolism, is an energy-saving strategy that has been interpreted as an adaptation to unpredictable resource availability. However, the effect of food-supply variability on torpor, separately from consistent food restriction, remains largely unexamined. In this study, we investigated the effect of unpredictable food availability on torpor in stripe-faced dunnarts (Sminthopsis macroura). After a control period of ad libitum feeding, dunnarts were offered 65% of their average daily ad libitum intake over 31 days, either as a constant restriction (i.e. as equal amount of food offered each day) or as an unpredictable schedule of feed offered, varied daily as 0%, 30%, 60%, 100% or 130% of ad libitum. Both feeding groups had increased torpor-bout occurrences (as a proportion of all dunnarts on a given day) and torpor-bout frequency (average number of bouts each day) when on a restricted diet compared with ad libitum feeding, but torpor frequency did not differ between the consistently restricted and unpredictably restricted groups. Most importantly, torpor occurrence and daily bout frequency by the unpredictably restricted group appeared to change in direct association with the amount of food offered on each day; torpor frequency was higher on days of low food availability. Our data do not support the interpretation that torpor is a response to unpredictable food availability per se, but rather that torpor allowed a rapid adjustment of energy expenditure to manage daily fluctuations in food availability.