Environmental conditions in burrows of two species of African mole-rat, Georhychus capensis and Cryptomys damarensis

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All correspondence to: Professor T. J. Roper. E-mail: T.J.Roper@sussex.ac.uk

Abstract

Temperature and respiratory gas (CO2 and O2) concentrations were measured in the foraging tunnels of burrows naturally inhabited by two species of southern African mole-rats, the Cape mole-rat Georhychus capensis and the Damaraland mole-rat Cryptomys damarensis. Both species are completely fossorial and inhabit closed burrow systems. Tunnels of G. capensis burrows had a mean diameter of 8.7 cm and a depth, measured to the roof of the tunnel, of 6.2 cm; those of C. damarensis had a mean diameter of 6.5 cm and depth of 40 cm. In both species, the mean concentration of CO2 was higher, and mean concentration of O2 lower, in burrows than in the surrounding soil or in ambient air. Mean and minimum values of O2 were 20.4% and 19.8%, respectively, in G. capensis and 20.4% and 19.9% in C. damarensis; mean and maximum values of CO2 were 0.4% and 1.2% in G. capensis and 0.4% and 6.0% in C. damarensis. Temperature varied between 18.5 and 24.2 °C in burrows of G. capensis by comparison with an ambient range of 16.9 to 26.8 °C; and from 19.6 to 29.3 °C in burrows of C. damarensis by comparison with an ambient range of 8.6 to 30.8 °C. Thus a burrowing habit seems to offer both species protection from extremes of temperature without entailing the cost of a grossly abnormal respiratory environment. From a review of the relevant literature, we conclude that average concentrations of CO2 and O2 in mammalian burrows often do not differ greatly from ambient values. However, more work is needed to determine the respiratory gas concentrations in the immediate vicinity of active, burrowing animals.

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