In many endotherms, a potentially important yet often overlooked mechanism to save energy is the use of the heat generated by active skeletal muscles to replace heat that would have been generated by thermogenesis (i.e. ‘activity–thermoregulatory heat substitution’). While substitution has been documented numerous times, the extent of individual variation in substitution has never been quantified. Here, we used a home-cage respirometry system to repeatedly measure substitution through the concomitant monitoring of metabolic rate (MR) and locomotor activity in 46 female white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus). A total of 117 measures of substitution were taken by quantifying the difference in the slope of the relationship between MR and locomotor activity speed at two different ambient temperatures. Consistency repeatability (±s.e.) of substitution was 0.313 (±0.131); hence, about a third of the variation in substitution occurs at the among-individual level. Body length and heart mass were positively correlated with substitution whereas surface area was negatively correlated with substitution. These three sub-organismal traits accounted for the majority of the among-individual variation (i.e. individual differences in substitution were not significant after accounting for these traits). Overall, our results imply that the energetic cost of activity below the thermoneutral zone is consistently cheaper from some individuals than others, and that the energy saved from substitution might be available to invest in fitness-enhancing activities.

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