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Phenotypic plasticity of post-fire activity and thermal biology of a free-ranging small mammal

Stawski, C, Körtner, G, Nowack, J and Geiser, F (2016) Phenotypic plasticity of post-fire activity and thermal biology of a free-ranging small mammal. Physiology & Behavior, 159. pp. 104-111. ISSN 0031-9384

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Abstract

Ecosystems can change rapidly and sometimes irreversibly due to a number of anthropogenic and natural factors, such as deforestation and fire. How individual animals exposed to such changes respond behaviourally and physiologically is poorly understood. We quantified the phenotypic plasticity of activity patterns and torpor use – a highly efficient energy conservation mechanism – in brown antechinus (Antechinus stuartii), a small Australian marsupial mammal. We compared groups in densely vegetated forest areas (pre-fire and control) with a group in a burned, open habitat (post-fire). Activity and torpor patterns differed among groups and sexes. Females in the post-fire group spent significantly less time active than the other groups, both during the day and night. However, in males only daytime activity declined in the post-fire group, although overall activity was also reduced on cold days in males for all groups. The reduction in total or diurnal activity in the post-fire group was made energetically possible by a ~ 3.4-fold and ~ 2.2-fold increase in the proportion of time females and males, respectively, used torpor in comparison to that in the pre-fire and control groups. Overall, likely due to reproductive needs, torpor was more pronounced in females than in males, but low ambient temperatures increased torpor bout duration in both sexes. Importantly, for both male and female antechinus and likely other small mammals, predator avoidance and energy conservation – achieved by reduced activity and increased torpor use – appear to be vital for post-fire survival where ground cover and refuges have been obliterated.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: 06 Biological Sciences, 11 Medical and Health Sciences, 17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Natural Sciences and Psychology
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Date Deposited: 25 Mar 2019 12:25
Last Modified: 25 Mar 2019 12:29
DOI or Identification number: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.03.009
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/10391

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