Kangaroo Rats Remodel Burrows in Response to Seasonal Changes in Environmental Conditions

Authors


Andrew J. Edelman, Department of Zoology and Physiology, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071 USA.
E-mail: aedelman@uwyo.edu

Abstract

Burrow architecture enhances important animal functions such as food storage, predator avoidance, and thermoregulation. Occupants may be able to maximize fitness by remodeling burrows in response to seasonal changes in climate and predation risk. My objective was to examine how banner-tailed kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spectabilis) modify the number of burrow entrances in response to seasonal conditions. For 3 yr, I monitored fluctuations in number of burrow entrances in kangaroo rat mounds. Individual kangaroo rats continually remodeled mounds in response to seasonal conditions. Compared to summer, mounds in winter had approximately 50% fewer entrances and plugged entrances were common. Monthly differences in number of entrances were closely linked with seasonal changes in soil temperature and precipitation. Number of entrances decreased as soil temperature and precipitation declined. Changes in burrow entrances likely reflect seasonal differences in the relative importance of burrow functions. Fewer burrow entrances during winter would create a warmer microclimate by reducing convective heat loss in mounds, resulting in thermoregulatory savings for occupants. During the summer, thermoregulatory costs of kangaroo rats are low, but risk of seed cache spoilage and predation from snakes increases. Adding burrow entrances after large summer rainfall events would increase the evaporation rate within mounds, reducing spoilage of seed caches. More burrow entrances would also reduce predation risk in the summer by providing additional escape routes.

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