, Volume 113, Issue 2, pp 290-298

Food availability and foraging by wild colonies of Damaraland mole-rats (Cryptomys damarensis ): implications for sociality

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We investigated some of the ecological determinants of sociality in the Damaraland mole-rat, including the spatial distribution and biomass of resources (geophytes) available to foraging Damaraland mole-rats in partly vegetated sand dunes in the Kalahari and in grasslands near Dordabis, Namibia, and the foraging behaviour and residency characteristics of colonies at Dordabis. In both study areas, the geophytes had a clumped distribution, but the highest coefficients of dispersion and mean biomass occurred in the Kalahari where the principal food was the gemsbok cucumber. However, because the coefficient of digestibility was lower in geophytes from the Kalahari than from Dordabis, and the mole-rats only ate about half of a gemsbok cucumber, there was less energy available to mole-rats in the Kalahari. At Dordabis, large established colonies occur in the areas with the richest resources and remain resident in the same area for many years; within this area they search (blindly) for food during brief periods when the soil, at burrow depth, is moist and easily worked. Initially, long straight burrows are dug and few bulbs are taken; once the soil dries, minor changes are made to the burrow system as the mole-rats exploit the food patches they located immediately after the rain. Our results show that the characteristics of the resources, and the short time interval during which location of new resources is possible, favour group living; however, the constraints imposed by these features affect large and small colonies in different ways. Small colonies are more likely to fail than large ones and some crucial factors in the survival of these newly formed colonies are the richness of the area in which their burrows are located, and the size of the colony work force available to locate the food.