Brock University team finalists in national photo competition

A Brock University research team led by biologist Glenn Tattersall is among 20 finalists in a Canada-wide photo competition sponsored by the Canadian government’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The public will decide the winner of NSERC’s Science Exposed contest by voting for their favourite photo on the Science Exposed site until September 16, 2016. The winner will be announced later in the fall.

Brock University’s photo “Burning Love” is a thermal image of two tegu lizards, one rubbing its head against the other. It is the 20th entry on the Science Exposed website.

The photo, taken by Brock PhD student Viviana Cadena, comes from the Tattersall team’s discovery that the tegu lizard is able to generate and retain its own body heat during the mating season, which lasts for two to three months.

This finding is significant because scientists have long classified lizards as being ecothermic, animals that rely on the sun or shade – rather than their internal metabolism – to warm or cool their bodies.

“By linking heat production to reproduction, the discovery advances a critical theory of how endotherms – vertebrates like us that regulate their own heat – evolved,” says Tattersall.

“The images we took with the thermal camera helped us to work out that the tegus are achieving great heat conservation along with cranking up their own internal body heat,” he says.

Various shades of vivid reds, oranges, pinks, purples and yellows depict the South American lizard’s rise in body temperature following large increases in metabolism and efficient control over blood flow. This body temperature increase can be up to 10 degrees higher than the surrounding atmosphere.

Cadena visited the tegu burrows every morning for a week or more and took images of tegus before the sun came up in order to capture their temperatures in the field before they could artificially warm from the sun.

“It’s a great honour for Brock to be represented in this national competition,” says Associate Vice President Research (Natural and Health Sciences) Joffre Mercier.

“Dr. Tattersall’s cutting-edge research on the tegu lizard has shed new light on our understanding of how we and other vertebrates have evolved in our ability to regulate our own heat,” he says.

“It’s gratifying to see this discovery being featured in the Science Exposed competition,” says Mercier. “We appreciate NSERC’s support for basic research, which forms the bedrock of innovations and discoveries.”

The Tattersall team’s findings, Seasonal reproductive endothermy in tegu lizards, was published January 22, 2016 in Science Advances, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)’s first open access online-only journal.

Visit the Tattersall Lab site for more information on this and other research that the group is conducting.

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