Integrative biology of injury in animals

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Rennolds, C.W. and Bely, A.E. (2023), Integrative biology of injury in animals. Biol Rev, 98: 34-62.


Mechanical injury is a prevalent challenge in the lives of animals with myriad potential consequences for organisms, including reduced fitness and death. Research on animal injury has focused on many aspects, including the frequency and severity of wounding in wild populations, the short- and long-term consequences of injury at different biological scales, and the variation in the response to injury within or among individuals, species, ontogenies, and environmental contexts. However, relevant research is scattered across diverse biological subdisciplines, and the study of the effects of injury has lacked synthesis and coherence. Furthermore, the depth of knowledge across injury biology is highly uneven in terms of scope and taxonomic coverage: much injury research is biomedical in focus, using mammalian model systems and investigating cellular and molecular processes, while research at organismal and higher scales, research that is explicitly comparative, and research on invertebrate and non-mammalian vertebrate species is less common and often less well integrated into the core body of knowledge about injury. The current state of injury research presents an opportunity to unify conceptually work focusing on a range of relevant questions, to synthesize progress to date, and to identify fruitful avenues for future research. The central aim of this review is to synthesize research concerning the broad range of effects of mechanical injury in animals. We organize reviewed work by four broad and loosely defined levels of biological organization: molecular and cellular effects, physiological and organismal effects, behavioural effects, and ecological and evolutionary effects of injury. Throughout, we highlight the diversity of injury consequences within and among taxonomic groups while emphasizing the gaps in taxonomic coverage, causal understanding, and biological endpoints considered. We additionally discuss the importance of integrating knowledge within and across biological levels, including how initial, localized responses to injury can lead to long-term consequences at the scale of the individual animal and beyond. We also suggest important avenues for future injury biology research, including distinguishing better between related yet distinct injury phenomena, expanding the subjects of injury research to include a greater variety of species, and testing how intrinsic and extrinsic conditions affect the scope and sensitivity of injury responses. It is our hope that this review will not only strengthen understanding of animal injury but will contribute to building a foundation for a more cohesive field of ‘injury biology’.