Seasonal variation in the activity patterns of the Orkney vole Microtus arvalis orcadensis

Authors

  • P. Reynolds,

    1. University of Aberdeen, Department of Zoology, Culterty Field Station, Newburgh, Ellon, Grampian, AB41 OAA
    Search for more papers by this author
    • *

      Scottish Natural Heritage, Research & Advisory Services Directorate, 2/5 Anderson Place, Edinburgh EH6 5NP

  • M. L. Gorman

    1. University of Aberdeen, Department of Zoology, Culterty Field Station, Newburgh, Ellon, Grampian, AB41 OAA
    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

In captivity, Orkney voles Microtus uruulis orcudensis show an activity pattern that consists of regularly alternating periods of rest and activity with a periodicity of about 2.8 hours. Captive voles kept under ambient conditions are equally active day and night at all times of the year. Free-living voles also show a regular short-term rhythm of activity but in addition the partition of activity between day and night varies seasonally. At two sites on Orkney Mainland cyclic variation in diurnality with a period of 12 months were recorded. Although surface activity occurred during both the day and night throughout the year, day activity predominated, particularly during the winter months. The cycle appeared to be synchronous at the two study sites.

Seasonal variation in diurnality appeared to be associated with population density and due largely to the proportion of juveniles in the population. Given the 12-month cycle of diurnality found in the Orkney vole, phase relationships with photoperiod are likely to be consistent between years. This may explain why populations of this subspecies do not appear to undergo multi-annual population cycles.

Despite intense levels of predation by raptors, including the short-eared owl which switches between nocturnal and diurnal hunting, Orkney voles exhibit a relatively simple and highly predictable cycle of diurnality. This cycle is unlikely therefore to have evolved as a means of preventing predator specialization with respect to time of day, season or year.

Ancillary