Prof. Berry Pinshow

Animal burrow ventilation – new ideas about ancient phenomena

Burrows are common animal habitations, yet living in a burrow presents physiological challenges for its inhabitants because the burrow isolates them from sources and sinks for oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor and ammonia. Conventionally, the isolation is thought to be overcome by either diffusion gas exchange within the burrow or some means of capturing wind energy to power steady or quasi-steady bulk flows of air through it. Both are examples of what may be called ‘DC’ models, namely steady to quasi-steady flows powered by steady to quasi-steady winds. Natural winds, however, are neither steady nor quasi-steady, but are turbulent, with a considerable portion of the energy contained in so-called ‘AC’ (i.e. unsteady) components, where wind velocity varies chaotically and energy to power gas exchange is stored in some form. Existing DC models of burrow gas exchange do not account for this potentially significant source of energy for ventilation. I will present evidence that at least two AC mechanisms operate to ventilate both single-opening burrows (of the Cape skink, Trachylepis capensis) and double-entranced model burrows (of Sundevall’s jird, Meriones crassus). If there is time, I will talk about Scorpion and spider burrows as well. It seems that consideration of the physiological ecology and evolution of the burrowing habit has been blinkered by the long neglect of AC ventilation.