Cardiovascular shunting in vertebrates: a practical integration of competing hypotheses.
This review explores the long-standing question: 'Why do cardiovascular shunts occur?' An historical perspective is provided on previous research into cardiac shunts in vertebrates that continues to shape current views. Cardiac shunts and when they occur is then described for vertebrates. Nearly 20 different functional reasons have been proposed as specific causes of shunts, ranging from energy conservation to improved gas exchange, and including a plethora of functions related to thermoregulation, digestion and haemodynamics. It has even been suggested that shunts are merely an evolutionary or developmental relic. Having considered the various hypotheses involving cardiovascular shunting in vertebrates, this review then takes a non-traditional approach. Rather than attempting to identify the single 'correct' reason for the occurrence of shunts, we advance a more holistic, integrative approach that embraces multiple, non-exclusive suites of proposed causes for shunts, and indicates how these varied functions might at least co-exist, if not actually support each other as shunts serve multiple, concurrent physiological functions. It is argued that deposing the 'monolithic' view of shunting leads to a more nuanced view of vertebrate cardiovascular systems. This review concludes by suggesting new paradigms for testing the function(s) of shunts, including experimentally placing organ systems into conflict in terms of their perfusion needs, reducing sources of variation in physiological experiments, measuring possible compensatory responses to shunt ablation, moving experiments from the laboratory to the field, and using cladistics-related approaches in the choice of experimental animals.