Cyclic bouts of extreme bradycardia counteract the high metabolism of frugivorous bats
In response to varying environmental and physiological challenges, vertebrates have evolved complex and often overlapping systems. These systems detect changes in environmental oxygen availability and respond by increasing oxygen supply to the tissues and/or by decreasing oxygen demand at the cellular level. This suite of responses is termed the oxygen transport cascade and is comprised of several components. These components include 1) chemosensory detectors that sense changes in oxygen, carbon dioxide, and pH in the blood, and initiate changes in 2) ventilation and 3) cardiac work, thereby altering the rate of oxygen delivery to, and carbon dioxide clearance from, the tissues. In addition, changes in 4) cellular and systemic metabolism alters tissue-level metabolic demand. Thus the need for oxygen can be managed locally when increasing oxygen supply is not sufficient or possible. Together, these mechanisms provide a spectrum of responses that facilitate the maintenance of systemic oxygen homeostasis in the face of environmental hypoxia or physiological oxygen depletion (i.e. due to exercise or disease). Bill Milsom has dedicated his career to the study of these responses across phylogenies, repeatedly demonstrating the power of applying the comparative approach to physiological questions. The focus of this review is to discuss the anatomy, signalling pathways, and mechanics of each step of the oxygen transport cascade from the perspective of a Milsomite. That is, by taking into account the developmental, physiological, and evolutionary components of questions related to oxygen transport. We also highlight examples of some of the remarkable species that have captured Bill's attention through their unique adaptations in multiple components of the oxygen transport cascade, which allow them to achieve astounding physiological feats. Bill's research examining the oxygen transport cascade has provided important insight and leadership to the study of the diverse suite of adaptations that maintain cellular oxygen content across vertebrate taxa, which underscores the value of the comparative approach to the study of physiological systems.