Futile cycling of protons across the mitochondrial inner membrane contributes significantly to standard metabolic rate in a variety of ectothermic and endothermic animals, but adaptations of the mitochondrial bioenergetics to different environmental conditions have rarely been studied in ectotherms. Changes in ambient temperature and nutritional status have a great effect on the physiological demands of ectothermic amphibians and may require the adjustment of mitochondrial efficiency. In order to investigate the effect of temperature and nutritional status on the mitochondrial level, we exposed male cane toads to either 10 degrees C or 30 degrees C and fasted half of the animals in each group. Cold exposure resulted in a fourfold reduction of the resting metabolic rate whereas nutritional status had only minor effects. The mitochondrial adjustments to each condition were observed by comparing the proton leak kinetics of isolated liver and skeletal muscle mitochondria at 25 degrees C. In response to cold exposure, liver mitochondria showed a decrease in proton conductance while skeletal muscle mitochondria were unchanged. Additional food deprivation had minor effects in skeletal muscle, but in liver we uncovered surprising differences in energy saving mechanisms between the acclimation temperatures: in warm-acclimated toads, fasting resulted in a decrease of the proton conductance whereas in cold-acclimated toads, the activity of the respiratory chain was reduced. To investigate the molecular mechanism underlying mitochondrial proton leakage, we determined the adenine-nucleotide transporter (ANT) content, which explained tissue-specific differences in the basal proton leak, but neither the ANT nor uncoupling protein (UCP) gene expression correlated with alterations of the proton leak in response to physiological stimuli.