Home-Range Dynamics in a Solitary Subterranean Rodent


Radim Šumbera, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia, Branišovská 31, 370 05 České Budějovice, Czech Republic.
E-mail: sumbera@prf.jcu.cz; r_sumbera@yahoo.com


Despite an important role of subterranean rodents as ecosystem engineers, their belowground mobility is poorly documented. It is supposed that their underground burrow systems, once established, are relatively stable because of high-energy costs of digging. We chose the silvery mole-rat, Heliophobius argenteocinereus (Bathyergidae, Rodentia) from mesic Afrotropics as a representative of solitary subterranean rodents to investigate how, and how fast these rodents process their established burrow systems. We combined radio-tracking of individual animals with subsequent mapping of their burrow systems, and we developed a new method for assessing the rate of burrowing. Mole-rats continuously rebuilt their burrow systems; they excavated approx. 0.7 m of new tunnels per day and backfilled on average 64% of all tunnels. On average, every 32 d they established a new nest. They often completely backfilled newly excavated peripheral burrows, while other parts of their burrow systems were more permanent. Their home-ranges were dynamic and continuously shifted in space. Burrow system processing continued even in the advanced dry season, when soil is difficult to work.