Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America ( IF 9.412 ) Pub Date : 2020-09-14 , DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2008974117 Zhi-Jun Zhao, Catherine Hambly, Lu-Lu Shi, Zhong-Qiang Bi, Jing Cao, John R. Speakman
Predicted increases in global average temperature are physiologically trivial for most endotherms. However, heat waves will also increase in both frequency and severity, and these will be physiologically more important. Lactating small mammals are hypothesized to be limited by heat dissipation capacity, suggesting high temperatures may adversely impact lactation performance. We measured reproductive performance of mice and striped hamsters (Cricetulus barabensis), including milk energy output (MEO), at temperatures between 21 and 36 °C. In both species, there was a decline in MEO between 21 and 33 °C. In mice, milk production at 33 °C was only 18% of that at 21 °C. This led to reductions in pup growth by 20% but limited pup mortality (0.8%), because of a threefold increase in growth efficiency. In contrast, in hamsters, MEO at 33 °C was reduced to 78.1% of that at 21 °C, yet this led to significant pup mortality (possibly infanticide) and reduced pup growth by 12.7%. Hamster females were more able to sustain milk production as ambient temperature increased, but they and their pups were less capable of adjusting to the lower supply. In both species, exposure to 36 °C resulted in rapid catastrophic lactation failure and maternal mortality. Upper lethal temperature was lowered by 3 to 6 °C in late lactation, making it a critically sensitive window to high ambient temperatures. Our data suggest future heat wave events will impact breeding success of small rodents, but this is based on animals with a long history in captivity. More work should be performed on wild rodents to confirm these impacts.