Semi-aquatic mammals occupy a precarious evolutionary position, having to function in both aquatic and terrestrial environments without specializing in locomotor performance in either environment. To examine possible energetic constraints on semi-aquatic mammals, we compared rates of oxygen consumption for the Australian water rat (Hydromys chrysogaster) using different locomotor behaviors: swimming and running. Aquatic locomotion was investigated as animals swam in a water flume at several speeds, whereas water rats were run on a treadmill to measure metabolic effort during terrestrial locomotion. Water rats swam at the surface using alternate pelvic paddling and locomoted on the treadmill using gaits that included walk, trot and half-bound, Water rats were able to run at twice their maximum swimming velocity. Swimming metabolic rate increased with velocity in a pattern similar to the 'humps' and 'hollows' for wave drag experienced by bodies moving at the water surface. Metabolic rate increased linearly during running, Over equivalent velocities, the metabolic rate for running was 13-40% greater than for swimming. The minimum cost of transport for swimming (2.61 J N(-1)m(-1)) was equivalent to values for other semi-aquatic mammals. The lowest cost for running (2.08 J N(-1)m(-1)) was 20% lower than for swimming. When compared with specialists at the extremes of the terrestrial-aquatic continuum, the energetic costs of locomoting either in water or on land were high for the semi-aquatic Hydromys chrysogaster. However, the relative costs for H, chrysogaster were lower than when an aquatic specialist attempts to move on land or a terrestrial specialist attempts to swim.
- water rat; Hydromys chrysogaster; swimming; running; wave drag; locomotion; energetics
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