Natural history and burrow system architecture of the silvery mole-rat from Brachystegia woodland


Jan Škliba, Department of Zoology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of South Bohemia, Branišovská 31, 370 05 České Budìjovice, Czech Republic. Tel: +420 387 772 240; Fax: +420 385 310 366


The silvery mole-rat Heliophobius argenteocinereus (Bathyergidae) is a solitary subterranean rodent, widely distributed throughout eastern and south-eastern Africa in a variety of habitats. Here, we provide the first data on its biology in a typical natural habitat, the Brachystegia woodland. The population density of mole-rats was low (4.6 ha−1) and its distribution across the study site was random. Contrary to subadults and pups, the sex ratio of adult mole-rats was highly female biased (1:5.75), probably due to the higher mortality of males as a consequence of their mating strategy. Reproduction of Heliophobius is seasonal and pups are born at the beginning of the hot dry season. Burrow systems of the silvery mole-rat were long, highly branched, reticulated and comparable in fractal dimension to systems of social bathyergids. Variability in burrow architecture was related to the body mass of the burrow occupants, soil hardness and food supply when tested together. Burrow systems with a higher fractal dimension had inhabitants that had a greater body mass. Longer systems were less branched. Nests were typically deeper than foraging tunnels and experienced negligible temperature fluctuations. The microenvironmental characteristics of the subterranean niche including temperature, humidity and soil characteristics are provided for purpose of comparison with other mole-rat species.