Intensity of giraffe locomotor activity is shaped by solar and lunar zeitgebers

Natural cycles of light and darkness shift the balance of risks and gains for animals across space and time. Entrainment to photic cycles allows animals to spatiotemporally adapt their behavioural and physiological processes in line with interplaying ecological factors, such as temperature, foraging efficiency and predation risk. Until recently, our understanding of these chronobiological processes was limited by the difficulties of 24 h observations. Technological advances in GPS biotelemetry however are now allowing us unprecedented access to long-term, fine-scale activity data. Here we use data derived from frontline technology to present the first largescale investigation into the effects of natural fluctuations of light and darkness on the locomotor activity patterns of a threatened African mega-herbivore, the giraffe (Giraffa spp.). Using data from a remote population of Angolan giraffe (G. g. angolensis) in the northern Namib Desert, Namibia, we reveal the first full picture of giraffe chronobiology in a landscape of fear. Furthermore, we present clear evidence of the effect of moonlight on the nocturnal activity patterns of large ungulates. Our results are in line with recent research demonstrating that, rather than a fixed internal representation of time (circadian clock), many surface-dwelling ungulates have plastic activity patterns that are vulnerable to modification by external factors including light and temperature. Relatedly, we highlight important conservation management implications of rising temperatures and increasing light pollution on the chronobiology of surface-dwelling mammals.

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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