In This Article Thermoregulation in Animals

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Development of the Concept
  • Environmental Constraints

Ecology Thermoregulation in Animals
Michael J. Angilletta
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0007


Thermoregulation includes all phenomena in which an organism maintains a mean or variance of body temperature that deviates from a null expectation, defined by random use of thermal microclimates and passive exchange of heat with the environment. Early studies of thermoregulation focused on certain taxa that exhibit striking physiological or behavioral strategies, such as endothermic vertebrates and desert lizards. Subsequent research has shown that most organisms thermoregulate to some degree, although thermoregulatory strategies vary greatly among taxa. In the late 1970s and the 1980s, researchers not only continued to study patterns and mechanisms of thermoregulation, they also began to study the evolutionary factors that influence capacities for and strategies of thermoregulation. This period coincided with the appearance of a new discipline, evolutionary physiology, which was a natural outgrowth of ecological physiology (or physiological ecology). From this period to the present day, studies of thermoregulation have driven much of the conceptual development within ecological and evolutionary physiology, thereby strengthening our general understanding of regulatory behavior.

General Overviews

To understand the development of concepts and ideas within the field, one should consult several syntheses of knowledge about temperature and thermoregulation. Cossins and Bowler 1987, focusing on mechanisms of thermoregulation, was the first general synthesis of the field. McNab 2002 contains a more recent review of patterns and mechanisms of thermoregulation in vertebrates. Angilletta 2009 provides greater emphasis on the evolution of thermoregulation. Other books and articles provide excellent reviews of thermoregulation in specific taxa, including reptiles (Huey 1982), amphibians (Hutchison and Dupré 1992), crustaceans (Lagerspetz and Vainio 2006), insects (Chown and Nicolson 2004), and mammals and birds (Clarke and Rothery 2008). In addition, the Journal of Thermal Biology routinely publishes papers about thermoregulation.

  • Angilletta, Michael J. 2009. Thermal adaptation: A theoretical and empirical synthesis. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 4 reviews ecological and evolutionary aspects of thermoregulation; other chapters cover specialized topics such as the coevolution of thermoregulation and thermal sensitivity, the use of game theory to understand thermoregulatory behavior, and the impacts of climate change on thermoregulatory strategies.

  • Chown, Steven L., and Sue W. Nicolson. 2004. Insect physiological ecology: Mechanisms and patterns. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198515494.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 6 provides a comprehensive summary of the mechanisms and patterns of thermoregulation among insects.

  • Clarke, Andrew, and Peter Rothery. 2008. Scaling of body temperature in mammals and birds. Functional Ecology 22.1: 58–67.

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    Analyzes patterns of body temperatures in the context of physiological and ecological factors.

  • Cossins, Andrew R., and K. Bowler. 1987. Temperature biology of animals. New York: Chapman and Hall.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-3127-5E-mail Citation »

    Chapters 3 and 4 cover thermoregulation by ectotherms and endotherms, respectively.

  • Huey, Raymond B. 1982. Temperature, physiology, and the ecology of reptiles. In Biology of the reptilia. Vol. 12, Physiology C: Physiological ecology. Edited by Carl Gans and F. Harvey Pough, 25–91. New York: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Although this chapter focuses on reptiles, and often lizards, the concepts that Huey discusses have been generalized to many other ectotherms. This chapter lays out many interesting questions and hypotheses and is still a worthwhile read decades after its publication.

  • Hutchison, Victor H., and R. Keith Dupré. 1992. Thermoregulation. In Environmental physiology of the amphibians. Edited by Martin E. Feder and Warren W. Burggren, 206–249. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Contains a very comprehensive review of preferred temperatures and thermoregulatory mechanisms; also discusses technical issues related to studies of thermoregulation in the lab and the field.

  • Journal of Thermal Biology.

    E-mail Citation »

    Publishes original articles in all areas of thermal biology, including thermoregulation. Full articles are available online.

  • Lagerspetz, Kari Y. H., and Liisa A. Vainio. 2006. Thermal behaviour of crustaceans. Biological Reviews 81.2: 237–258.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1464793105006998E-mail Citation »

    Not only summarizes preferred temperatures but also describes thermal tolerances and thermal effects on behavior.

  • McNab, Brian Keith. 2002. Physiological ecology of vertebrates: A view from energetics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Chapters 4 and 5 provide general reviews of thermoregulatory patterns in ectotherms and endotherms, respectively.

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