Seasonal patterns of body temperature daily rhythms in group-living cape ground squirrels Xerus inauris

M. Scantlebury, M. Danek-Gontard, P.W. Bateman, N.C. Bennett, M.-B. Manjerovic, J.M. Waterman, K.E. Joubert

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Organisms respond to cyclical environmental conditions by entraining their endogenous biological rhythms. Such physiological responses are expected to be substantial for species inhabiting arid environments which incur large variations in daily and seasonal ambient temperature (T). We measured core body temperature (T) daily rhythms of Cape ground squirrels Xerus inauris inhabiting an area of Kalahari grassland for six months from the Austral winter through to the summer. Squirrels inhabited two different areas: an exposed flood plain and a nearby wooded, shady area, and occurred in different social group sizes, defined by the number of individuals that shared a sleeping burrow. Of a suite of environmental variables measured, maximal daily T provided the greatest explanatory power for mean T whereas sunrise had greatest power for T acrophase. There were significant changes in mean T and T acrophase over time with mean T increasing and T acrophase becoming earlier as the season progressed. Squirrels also emerged from their burrows earlier and returned to them later over the measurement period. Greater increases in T, sometimes in excess of 5°C, were noted during the first hour post emergence, after which T remained relatively constant. This is consistent with observations that squirrels entered their burrows during the day to 'offload' heat. In addition, greater T amplitude values were noted in individuals inhabiting the flood plain compared with the woodland suggesting that squirrels dealt with increased environmental variability by attempting to reduce their T-T gradient. Finally, there were significant effects of age and group size on T with a lower and less variable T in younger individuals and those from larger group sizes. These data indicate that Cape ground squirrels have a labile T which is sensitive to a number of abiotic and biotic factors and which enables them to be active in a harsh and variable environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere36053
Number of pages11
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2012

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