The effects of long-term starvation and subsequent refeeding on haematological variables, behaviour, rates of oxygen consumption and intermediary and energy metabolism were studied in morphologically similar surface- and cave-dwelling salamanders. To provide a hypothetical general model representing the responses of amphibians to food stress, a sequential energy strategy has been proposed, suggesting that four successive phases (termed stress, transition, adaptation and recovery) can be distinguished. The metabolic response to prolonged food deprivation was monophasic in the epigean Euproctus asper (Salamandridae), showing an immediate, linear and large decrease in all the energy reserves. In contrast, the hypogean Proteus anguinus (Proteidae) displayed successive periods of glucidic, lipidic and finally lipido-proteic-dominant catabolism during the course of food deprivation. The remarkable resistance to long-term fasting and the very quick recovery from nutritional stress of this cave organism may be explained partly by its ability to remain in an extremely prolonged state of protein sparing and temporary torpor. Proteus anguinus had reduced metabolic and activity rates (considerably lower than those of most surface-dwelling amphibians). These results are interpreted as adaptations to a subterranean existence in which poor and discontinuous food supplies and/or intermittent hypoxia may occur for long periods. Therefore, P. anguinus appears to be a good example of a low-energy-system vertebrate.

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