In tough times young mice take things slow

When the going gets tough, the young slow down and the old keep going. That’s what happens to African striped mice (Rhabdomys pumilio) in times of drought, according to researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Their findings are published in the journal Ethology. These highlight the influence of different seasons and the use of different tactics in the survival of species.

African striped mice are found widely in Southern Africa. A team led by Rebecca Rimbach compared the activities of older breeding adults (so-called breeders) and young non-breeding adults (so-called philopatrics) during times of drought when food is scarce.

African striped mouse. Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:C.R.Selvakumar

African striped mouse. Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:C.R.Selvakumar

They among others found that the philopatrics were the ones who reduce their activity levels during tough times. “This is possibly to decrease energy expenditure,” says Rimbach.

Philopatrics of both sexes foraged and basked much more during the breeding season than during the non-breeding season. In the process, the males were able to gain weight, while the female philopatrics were able to maintain their body mass.

Among the breeding group, the females were the ones that foraged the most. In turn, the male breeders were the ones that most often chased other individuals.

Reference: Rimbach, R. et al (2016). Young But Not Old Adult African Striped Mice Reduce Their Activity in the Dry Season When Food Availability is Low, Ethology

Engela Duvenage

Co-founder of SciBraai.co.za. Day job: Science writer and science communicator who loves turning research papers into news stories. Claim to fame: mother of two daughters; winner of the Izethelo Award for Outstanding Journalism (2016) from the South African fruit industry, and winner of the best technical article award (2016) as presented by the South African Agricultural Writers' Association Background: MPhil (Journalism, specialising in science journalism) and HonsBA (Psychology).

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