The roles of diffusion and convection in ventilation of animal burrows

Craig R. White, Roger S. Seymour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The relationship between body mass and the respiratory microenvironment of burrowing animals is examined using artificial burrows containing surrogate animals that simulate O2 consumption by removal of air and simultaneous replacement with N2. Allometric relationships between body mass and burrow radius, nest chamber radius, and O2 consumption rate show that published mathematical predictions of diffusion-mediated gas exchange are adequate to describe the respiratory environments of animals in small blind-ending burrows through porous substrata. Diffusion is sufficient to ventilate burrows containing small mammals weighing less than 340 g, or subterranean nest chambers connected to the surface by one or more tunnels containing mammals weighing less than 30 kg. Outside of these limits, convection prevails and prevents the development of hypoxic conditions, particularly in burrows of mammals weighing more than 1300 g.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1047-1058
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B-Biochemical Systemic and Environmental Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


  • Burrowing
  • Convection
  • Diffusion
  • Fossorial
  • Gas exchange
  • Scaling

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