Royal Society Open Science (2020-10-01)

Environmental conditions alter behavioural organization and rhythmicity of a large Arctic ruminant across the annual cycle

  • Floris M. van Beest,
  • Larissa T. Beumer,
  • Marianna Chimienti,
  • Jean-Pierre Desforges,
  • Nicholas Per Huffeldt,
  • Stine Højlund Pedersen,
  • Niels Martin Schmidt

DOI
https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.201614
Journal volume & issue
Vol. 7, no. 10

Abstract

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The existence and persistence of rhythmicity in animal activity during phases of environmental change is of interest in ecology, evolution and chronobiology. A wide diversity of biological rhythms in response to exogenous conditions and internal stimuli have been uncovered, especially for polar vertebrates. However, empirical data supporting circadian organization in behaviour of large ruminating herbivores remains inconclusive. Using year-round tracking data of the largest Arctic ruminant, the muskox (Ovibos moschatus), we modelled rhythmicity as a function of behaviour and environmental conditions. Behavioural states were classified based on patterns in hourly movements, and incorporated within a periodicity analyses framework. Although circadian rhythmicity in muskox behaviour was detected throughout the year, ultradian rhythmicity was most prevalent, especially when muskoxen were foraging and resting in mid-winter (continuous darkness). However, when combining circadian and ultradian rhythmicity together, the probability of behavioural rhythmicity declined with increasing photoperiod until largely disrupted in mid-summer (continuous light). Individuals that remained behaviourally rhythmic during mid-summer foraged in areas with lower plant productivity (NDVI) than individuals with arrhythmic behaviour. Based on our study, we conclude that muskoxen may use an interval timer to schedule their behavioural cycles when forage resources are low, but that the importance and duration of this timer are reduced once environmental conditions allow energetic reserves to be replenished ad libitum. We argue that alimentary function and metabolic requirements are critical determinants of biological rhythmicity in muskoxen, which probably applies to ruminating herbivores in general.

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