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      Phenotypic plasticity of post-fire activity and thermal biology of a free-ranging small mammal.

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          Abstract

          Ecosystems can change rapidly and sometimes irreversibly due to a number of anthropogenic and natural factors, such as deforestation and fire. How individual animals exposed to such changes respond behaviourally and physiologically is poorly understood. We quantified the phenotypic plasticity of activity patterns and torpor use - a highly efficient energy conservation mechanism - in brown antechinus (Antechinus stuartii), a small Australian marsupial mammal. We compared groups in densely vegetated forest areas (pre-fire and control) with a group in a burned, open habitat (post-fire). Activity and torpor patterns differed among groups and sexes. Females in the post-fire group spent significantly less time active than the other groups, both during the day and night. However, in males only daytime activity declined in the post-fire group, although overall activity was also reduced on cold days in males for all groups. The reduction in total or diurnal activity in the post-fire group was made energetically possible by a ~3.4-fold and ~2.2-fold increase in the proportion of time females and males, respectively, used torpor in comparison to that in the pre-fire and control groups. Overall, likely due to reproductive needs, torpor was more pronounced in females than in males, but low ambient temperatures increased torpor bout duration in both sexes. Importantly, for both male and female antechinus and likely other small mammals, predator avoidance and energy conservation - achieved by reduced activity and increased torpor use - appear to be vital for post-fire survival where ground cover and refuges have been obliterated.

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          Author and article information

          Journal
          Physiol. Behav.
          Physiology & behavior
          Elsevier BV
          1873-507X
          0031-9384
          May 15 2016
          : 159
          Affiliations
          [1 ] Centre for Behavioural and Physiological Ecology, Zoology, University of New England, Armidale, 2351, NSW, Australia. Electronic address: cstawsk2@une.edu.au.
          [2 ] Centre for Behavioural and Physiological Ecology, Zoology, University of New England, Armidale, 2351, NSW, Australia.
          Article
          S0031-9384(16)30096-8
          10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.03.009
          27001165

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