Activity of root voles (Microtus oeconomus) under snow: social encounters synchronize individual activity rhythms

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-006-0256-3

Cite this article as:
Korslund, L. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2006) 61: 255. doi:10.1007/s00265-006-0256-3


Microtine rodents usually display short-term activity rhythms synchronized by light. Social interactions have also been suggested to act as a zeitgeber, entraining individual activity, but evidence supporting this is scarce. In areas with a permanent snow cover during winter, small rodents spend most of the time in the subnivean space, between the snow cover and the ground, where they most likely are unaffected by otherwise dominating photoperiodic cues. The subnivean space, however, is fragmented, and this limits movement and may isolate individuals living just a few meters apart. These conditions provide excellent opportunities to test for the existence of social synchronization. During two winters, I experimentally decreased the subnivean fragmentation by placing out a network of corrugated aluminium sheets on the ground before snowfall, thus increasing the potential for movement and social interaction within the subnivean space. Other areas were left as controls. Intensive PIT-tag monitoring in the subnivean system provided individual activity data of root voles (Microtus oeconomus) without disturbing normal activity. The data revealed that microtines under snow displayed a free-running activity rhythm and that the activity was evenly distributed throughout the 24-h day, indicating a lack of photo-entrainment. Despite this lack of light, interacting individuals were synchronous, and pairwise synchrony decreased with decreasing potential for social interactions. These results suggest that social interactions indeed entrain microtine activity. Several possible adaptive advantages of the synchrony of microtine rodent activity have been proposed, and these theories are discussed in light of the result presented.


Small rodent Social entrainment Ultradian activity Subnivean Synchrony 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program for Experimental Behavioural and Population Ecological Research, Department of BiologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Biology, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES)University of OsloBlindernOsloNorway