Alteration in diel activity patterns as a thermoregulatory strategy in black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou)
The nychthemeral activity patterns of a population of female black wildebeest inhabiting a shadeless environment were surveyed periodically over 1 year. The wildebeest fed mostly at night, with the proportion of feeding at night increasing when ambient conditions were hotter. Inactive periods were spent mostly lying during cooler weather but standing as days became hotter. We suggest that the entire suite of behavioural adjustments is beneficial to heat exchange with the environment. Behaviour patterns were markedly different during one warm weather survey, from the other warm weather surveys, when an 8-month dry spell had just been broken. We suggest that this may reflect the availability of water for autonomic thermoregulation, a consequent decreased reliance on behavioural thermoregulation, and a release of the thermal constraints on foraging. Our results help to explain the ability of black wildebeest to maintain body core temperature within a very narrow range despite being exposed to an environment with large nychthemeral variations in thermal conditions and offering little in the way of microclimate selection.