Frontiers in Zoology (Jun 2019)
Effects of reproduction and environmental factors on body temperature and activity patterns of wolverines
Abstract Background Mammals in the far north are exposed to extreme seasonal changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature and photoperiod, which have notable effects on animal physiology and behaviour. The wolverine (Gulo gulo) is a carnivore with a circumpolar distribution and well-adapted to extreme environmental conditions. Still, ecophysiological studies on free-ranging wolverines are lacking. In this study, we used abdominally implanted body temperature loggers in combination with GPS collars with acceleration sensors on 14 free-ranging wolverines in northern Sweden to study daily and seasonal variation in body temperature and activity patterns. We used generalized additive mixed modelling to investigate body temperature patterns over time and Lomb-Scargle periodogram analysis to analyse circadian rhythms. Results We found that wolverines have an average core body temperature of 38.5 ± 0.2 °C with a daily variation of up to 6 °C. Body temperature patterns varied between reproductive states. Pregnant females showed a distinct decrease in body temperature during gestation. Wolverines were active both in day and night, but displayed distinct activity peaks during crepuscular hours. However, body temperature and activity patterns changed seasonally, with a gradual change from a unimodal pattern in winter with concentrated activity during the short period of day light to a bimodal pattern in autumn with activity peaks around dusk and dawn. Wolverines were less likely to display 24-h rhythms in winter, when hours of day light are limited. Conclusions The combination of different biologging techniques gave novel insight into the ecophysiology, activity patterns and reproductive biology of free-ranging wolverines, adding important knowledge to our understanding of animals adapted to cold environments at northern latitudes.