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Estimating the influence of the thermal environment on activity patterns of the desert woodrat (Neotoma lepida) using temperature chronologies

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Environmental temperature influences the ecology and life history of animals. In habitats near the thermal range boundary, fluctuations in temperature may influence the ability of species to persist. Desert woodrats (Neotoma lepida Thomas, 1893) occupy one of the hottest and most extreme environments in the western hemisphere, Death Valley, California, despite limited adaptations for water conservation or efficient heat dissipation. Moreover, N. lepida have a relatively low tolerance for high temperature. Thus, we hypothesized temperature might influence both the timing and the duration of activity. To test this idea, we attached iButton sensors to 56 animals over a 2-year period and recorded activity. Each sensor was set to record at 5 or 15 min intervals and stored approximately 2000 records before retrieval. We found a strong relationship between ambient temperature and onset and duration of activity, influenced by both body size and gender. Neotoma lepida did not emerge until air temperature fell below 42 °C. As daily high temperatures increased, both sexes had fewer nightly activity bouts of shorter duration. Our results suggest that activity of N. lepida is constrained during the climatically intense summer months. Animals face a trade-off between remaining in the thermal safety of the den vs. emerging to obtain resources.

Keywords: Death Valley; Neotoma lepida; biologie thermique; desert woodrat; iButton; néotoma du désert; temperature; température; thermal biology; vallée de la Mort

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-09-17

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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