Increased Diurnal Activity Is Indicative of Energy Deficit in a Nocturnal Mammal, the Aardvark - CNRS - Centre national de la recherche scientifique Access content directly
Journal Articles Frontiers in Physiology Year : 2020

Increased Diurnal Activity Is Indicative of Energy Deficit in a Nocturnal Mammal, the Aardvark


Shifting activity to cooler times of day buffers animals from increased heat and aridity under climate change. Conversely, when resources are limited, some nocturnal species become more diurnal, reducing energetic costs of keeping warm at night. Aardvarks (Orycteropus afer) are nocturnal, obligate ant- and termite-eating mammals which may be threatened directly by increasing heat and aridity, or indirectly by the effects of climate change on their prey. We hypothesised that the minimum 24-h body temperature of aardvarks would decline during energy scarcity, and that aardvarks would extend their active phases to compensate for reduced resource availability, possibly resulting in increased diurnal activity when aardvarks were energetically compromised. To measure their thermoregulatory patterns and foraging activity, we implanted abdominal temperature and activity data loggers into 12 adult aardvarks and observed them for varying durations over 3 years in the Kalahari. Under non-drought conditions, aardvarks tightly controlled their 24-h body temperature rhythm (mean amplitude of the 24-h body temperature rhythm was 1.8 ± 0.3°C during summer and 2.1 ± 0.1°C during winter) and usually were nocturnal. During a summer drought, aardvarks relaxed the precision of body temperature regulation (mean 24-h amplitude 2.3 ± 0.4°C) and those that subsequently died shifted their activity to progressively earlier times of day in the weeks before their deaths. Throughout the subsequent winter, the aardvarks’ minimum 24-h body temperatures declined, causing exaggerated heterothermy (4.7 ± 1.3°C; absolute range 24.7 to 38.8°C), with one individual’s body temperature varying by 11.7°C within 8 h. When body temperatures were low, aardvarks often emerged from burrows during daytime, and occasionally returned before sunset, resulting in completely diurnal activity. Aardvarks also shortened their active periods by 25% during food scarcity, likely to avoid energetic costs incurred by foraging. Despite their physiological and behavioural flexibility, aardvarks were unable to compensate for reduced food availability. Seven study aardvarks and several others died, presumably from starvation. Our results do not bode well for aardvarks facing climate change, and for the many animal species dependent on aardvark burrows for refuge.
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hal-02901069 , version 1 (16-07-2020)



Nora Marie Weyer, Andrea Fuller, Anna Jean Haw, Leith Carl Rodney Meyer, Duncan Mitchell, et al.. Increased Diurnal Activity Is Indicative of Energy Deficit in a Nocturnal Mammal, the Aardvark. Frontiers in Physiology, 2020, 11, pp.637. ⟨10.3389/fphys.2020.00637⟩. ⟨hal-02901069⟩
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