Females are markedly underinvestigated in the biological and behavioral sciences due to the presumption that cyclic hormonal changes across the ovulatory cycle introduce excess variability to measures of interest in comparison to males. However, recent analyses indicate that male and female mice and rats exhibit comparable variability across numerous physiological and behavioral measures, even when the stage of the estrous cycle is not considered. Hormonal changes across the ovulatory cycle likely contribute cyclic, intra-individual variability in females, but the source(s) of male variability has, to our knowledge, not been investigated. It is unclear whether male variability, like that of females, is temporally structured and, therefore, quantifiable and predictable. Finally, whether males and females exhibit variability on similar time scales has not been explored.
These questions were addressed by collecting chronic, high temporal resolution locomotor activity (LA) and core body temperature (CBT) data from male and female BALB/c mice.
Contrary to expectation, males are more variable than females over the course of the day (diel variability) and exhibit higher intra-individual daily range than females in both LA and CBT. Between mice of a given sex, variability is comparable for LA but the inter-individual daily range in CBT is greater for males. To identify potential rhythmic processes contributing to these sex differences, we employed wavelet transformations across a range of periodicities (1–39 h).
Although variability in circadian power is comparable between the sexes for both LA and CBT, infradian variability is greater in females and ultradian variability is greater in males. Thus, exclusion of female mice from studies because of estrous cycle variability may increase variance in investigations where only male measures are collected over a span of several hours and limit generalization of findings from males to females.