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Seasonal effects on digging activity and burrow architecture in the Cape dune mole-rat, Bathyergus suillus (Rodentia: Bathyergidae)

Author(s): Hannah Grace Thomas | Phillip William Bateman | David Michael Scantlebury | Nigel Bennett

Journal: African Zoology
ISSN 1562-7020

Volume: 47;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: Burrow | seasonality | sexual selection | Bathyergus | mate choice | mole-rat | energetics

Abstract Most polygynous male mammals exhibit little or no parental care or involvement in raising young. Instead, they invest in indirectly in their own morphological and physiological attributes which enhance their chance of reproduction. Such secondary morphological sex traits may contribute to differences in the burrow architecture of fossorial mammals, such as the Cape dune mole-rat, Bathyergus suillus.  Indeed, little is known about the seasonal changes in burrow architecture or differences in burrow configuration may differ between the sexes of subterranean African mole-rats (Bathyergidae). We excavated burrow systems of male and female B. suillus during the summer and the winter to investigate whether male burrow architecture reflected putative mate-seeking behaviour. We consider burrow geometry in response to mating strategies. Male B. suillus were generally although, not significantly larger in body size than their female counterparts and the burrow systems they investigated explored the underground environment more efficiently. Burrow lengths of both sexes were longer in length, covered a greater area and had a greater tunnel depth in winter than during the summer. This is presumably because of the increase in associated energetic costs to dispose of soil onto the surface when the soil is less friable during the dry summer and disused tunnels are rather back-filled to reduce energy expenditure.   Overall tunnel dimensions did not differ between the sexes. It appears that a change in season affects the physical size of the burrow, but it does not affect the geometry of the burrow system even in a climatically buffered environment.
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