Biology

Fat content of striped mice decreases during the breeding season but not during the food-restricted dry season [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Rebecca Rimbach, Stephane Blanc, Alexandre Zahariev, Jean-Patrice Robin, Neville Pillay, and Carsten Schradin

Individuals that are capable of accumulating appropriate fat stores are assumed to have selective advantages when food becomes scarce. Similarly to species from temperate zones, some species inhabiting arid areas accumulate fat stores prior to periods of food limitation. Yet, we have little knowledge concerning seasonal variation in body composition and the relationship between fat store size and disappearance risk in species from arid habitats. Using the water dilution method, we examined the body composition of African striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) living in a seasonal habitat with a long food-restricted dry season. We tested for seasonal changes in body composition (N=159 measurements of 113 individuals) and whether dry season survival was related to fat mass (N=66 individuals). Fat stores were similar in size at the onset and the end of the dry season, but surprisingly smaller at the onset of the moist breeding season. Fat stores showed a negative relationship with food availability. Individual variation in fat stores was not associated with disappearance risk, but there was a positive association of disappearance risk with body mass. Increased disappearance risk of heavy individuals suggests elevated dispersal rates in competitive individuals. This study suggests that non-breeding philopatric striped mice do not accumulate large fat stores prior to the food-limited dry season but that they might mobilize fat stores at the onset of the breeding season to satisfy the energetic demands of reproduction and/or to decrease costs associated with larger fat stores, such as increased predation risk.

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