Physiological differences between winter phenotypes of Siberian hamsters do not correlate with their behaviour
Publication date: January 2019
Source: Animal Behaviour, Volume 147
Author(s): Anna S. Przybylska, Michał S. Wojciechowski, Małgorzata Jefimow
Living in a seasonally changing environment requires periodic, reversible changes in animals' phenotypes to match variations in their abiotic and biotic environments. These changes may relate to temperature regulation, torpor use, basal metabolic rate, body mass or behaviour, all acting in concert to ensure the best adjustment to the environmental challenges. As winter approaches, many small mammals develop a winter phenotype that is qualitatively and quantitatively different from a summer one. However, there is a significant within-population polymorphism in winter phenotype. We hypothesized that winter phenotype is correlated with consistent between-individual differences in animal behaviour, i.e. animal personality, and energy metabolism. We measured basal metabolic rate (BMR) and behavioural traits in three winter phenotypes of Siberian hamsters, Phodopus sungorus, which were acclimated to summer-like and then to winter-like conditions: fully responding, nonresponding and partially responding to a short photoperiod. We found no differences in behavioural traits between hamsters of different winter phenotypes, but the seasonal increase in activity was lowest in full responders indicating their lower behavioural flexibility than partial responders and nonresponders. The same was true for BMR. While nonresponders and partial responders increased their BMR from summer to winter, full responders did not change it. We argue that different winter phenotypes are maintained in the population because they could be beneficial under different environmental conditions. We also suggest that within a population there is a continuum of winter phenotypes, which is not related to differences in animal personalities. This continuum allows for population maintenance despite environmental conditions changing over short and long timescales.
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