Heart and respiratory rates of the smallest mammal (mean adult body mass 2g), the Etruscan shrew Suncus etruscus, were determined at rest and under stress conditions. Heart rate was obtained from electrocardiograms (ECGs), recorded via foot electrodes. The mean +/- S.D. heart rate of resting animals (ambient temperature 22 degrees C) was 835 +/- 107 min-1, the mean maximal rate amounted to 1093 +/- 235 min-1. The highest single value recorded was 1511 min-1, which is the highest heart rate reported so far for an endotherm. The respiratory rate was also obtained from ECG recordings, which showed the electrical activity of the breathing muscles during inhalation, and additionally by recording the movements of the thoracic wall with a laser autofocus system. The mean resting respiratory rate was 661 +/- 93 min-1, the mean maximal rate was 758 +/- 109 min-1 and the highest single value recorded was 894 min-1. At 22 degrees C, the specific oxygen consumption rate is 67 times higher in resting S. etruscus than in resting humans. Under these conditions, the respiratory rate of the shrew is 47 times higher but the heart rate only 12 times higher than in man. Therefore, to achieve an adequate circulatory oxygen transport rate, the product of relative stroke volume and arterio-venous O2 difference has to be 5.6 times higher in the shrew than in man, whereas for an appropriate ventilatory oxygen transport rate the product of relative tidal volume and oxygen extraction has to be only 1.4 times higher in this small insectivore than in man. The maximal possible oxygen transport rates of the ventilatory and the circulatory system have been estimated and compared with the diffusional transport capacity of the lung. These rates amount to approximately 1000 ml O2 kg-1 min-1. According to our results and data in the literature, an aerobic scope of 7-10 seems to be realistic for the Etruscan shrew.

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