Acta Theriologica

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 121–130 | Cite as

Burrow architecture, family composition and habitat characteristics of the largest social African mole-rat: the giant mole-rat constructs really giant burrow systems

  • Radim Šumbera
  • Vladimír Mazoch
  • Hana Patzenhauerová
  • Matěj Lövy
  • Jan Šklíba
  • Josef Bryja
  • Hynek Burda
Original Paper

Abstract

Among African mole-rats, the giant mole-rat Fukomys mechowii is the largest social species. Despite several attempts to study a free-living population, information on its biology from natural habitats is very scarce. We mapped two neighbouring burrow systems of the giant mole-rat in a miombo woodland in Zambia. We provide information on the size and kin structure of the respective mole-rat families, architecture of their burrow systems, and characteristics of the food supply and soil around the two mapped and additional ten burrow systems. Both uncovered burrow systems were very large (total lengths, 2,245 and 743 m), making them the largest burrow systems ever mapped. Food resources around the additional ten burrow systems had a clumped distribution (standardized Morisita index of dispersion = 0.526), but a relatively high biomass (298 ± 455 g m−2). This, together with favourable soil conditions even in the advanced dry season (cone resistance, 328 ± 50 N m−2; soil density, 1.36 ± 0.06 g cm−3) indicates relatively hospitable ecological conditions. Both food supply and soil conditions were comparable with the conditions found in a miombo habitat of the solitary silvery mole-rat in Malawi. This suggests that there are no ecological constraints which would preclude the solitary life of a subterranean herbivore from the examined habitat. Microsatellite analysis supported the assumption that giant mole-rats live in monogamous multigenerational families with only one breeding pair of non-related animals and their offspring. The mean family size is consistent with previous findings on this species and comparable to that found in other Fukomys species studied thus far.

Keywords

Fukomys mechowii Subterranean rodent Burrow system Kin structure Bathyergidae 

References

  1. Abramoff MD, Magelhaes PJ, Ram SJ (2004) Image processing with ImageJ. Biophotonics International 11(7):36–42Google Scholar
  2. Benedix JH (1993) Area-restricted search by the plain pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius) in tallgrass prairie habitat. Behav Ecol 4:318–324CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett NC, Faulkes CG (2000) African mole-rats: ecology and eusociality. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Block A, von Bloh W, Schnellhuber HJ (1990) Efficient box-counting determination of generalized fractal dimensions. Phys Rev A 42:1869–1874Google Scholar
  5. Brett RA (1991) The ecology of naked-mole-rat colonies: burrowing, food, and limiting factors. In: Sherman PW, Jarvis JUM, Alexander RD (eds) The biology of the naked mole-rat. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 137–148Google Scholar
  6. Burda H, Kawalika M (1993) Evolution of eusociality in the Bathyergidae. The case of the giant mole-rats (Cryptomys mechowi). Naturwissenschaften 80:235–237PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burda H, Honeycutt RL, Begall S, Locker-Grütjen O, Scharff A (2000) Are naked and common mole-rats eusocial and if so, why? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 47:293–303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burland TM, Bishop JM, O’Ryan C, Faulkes CG (2001) Microsatellite primers for the African mole-rat genus Cryptomys and cross-species amplification within the family Bathyergidae. Mol Ecol Notes 1:311–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. ESRI® (1999–2008) ArcInfo™ Workstation Version 9.3 GIS softwareGoogle Scholar
  10. Herbst M, Bennett NC (2006) Burrow architecture and burrowing dynamics of the endangered Namaqua dune mole-rat (Bathyergus janetta) (Rodentia: Bathyergidae). J Zool (London) 270:420–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Heth G (1989) Burrow patterns of the mole rat Spalax ehrenbergi in two soil types (terra-rossa and rendzina) in Mount Carmel. J Zool (London) 217:39–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hickman GC (1979) Burrow system structure of the Bathyergid Cryptomys hottentotus in Natal, South Africa. Z Saugetierkd 44:153–162Google Scholar
  13. Hickman GC (1990) Adaptiveness of tunnel system features in subterranean mammal burrows. In: Nevo E, Reig OA (eds) Evolution of subterranean mammals at the organismal and molecular levels. Alan R. Liss, New York, pp 185–210Google Scholar
  14. Jarvis JUM (1985) Ecological studies on Heterocephalus glaber, the naked mole-rat, in Kenya. Natl Geogr Res 20:429–437Google Scholar
  15. Jarvis JUM, Bennett NC (1991) Ecology and behavior of the family Bathyergidae. In: Sherman PW, Jarvis JUM, Alexander RD (eds) The biology of the naked mole-rat. Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp 66–96Google Scholar
  16. Jarvis JUM, Bennett NC (1993) Eusociality has evolved independently in two genera of bathyergid mole-rats—but occurs in no other subterranean mammal. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 33:253–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jarvis JUM, O’Riain MJ, Bennett NC, Sherman PW (1994) Mammalian eusociality: a family affair. Trends Ecol Evol 9:47–51PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Jarvis JUM, Bennett NC, Spinks AC (1998) Food availability and foraging by wild colonies of Damaraland mole-rats (Cryptomys damarensis): implications for sociality. Oecologia 113:290–298CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kalinowski ST, Wagner AP, Taper ML (2006) ML-RELATE: a computer program for maximum likelihood estimation of relatedness and relationship. Mol Ecol Notes 6:576–579CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Karperien A (1999–2007) FracLac for ImageJ, version 2.5. http://rsb.info.nih.gov/ij/plugins/fraclac/FLHelp/Introduction.htm
  21. Kawalika M, Burda H (2007) Giant mole-rats, Fukomys mechowii, 13 years on the stage. In: Begall S, Burda H, Schleich CE (eds) Subterranean rodents: news from underground. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 205–219CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kingdon J (1974) Mole-rats, blesmols, root-rats. In: Kingdon J (ed) East African mammals. An Atlas of Evolution in Africa, volume II, part B (hares and rodents). Academic, New York, pp 474–494Google Scholar
  23. Kinlaw A (1999) A review of burrowing by semi-fossorial vertebrates in arid environments. J Arid Environ 41:127–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Le Comber SC, Spinks AC, Bennett NC, Jarvis JUM, Faulkes CG (2002) Fractal dimension of African mole-rat burrows. Can J Zool 80:436–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Le Comber SC, Seabloom EW, Romanach SS (2006) Burrow fractal dimension and foraging success in subterranean rodents: a simulation. Behav Ecol 17:188–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nevo E (1999) Mosaic evolution of subterranean mammals: regression, progression and global convergence. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  27. Oyama M, Takehara H (2002) Revised standard soil color chart. Fujihira Industry, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  28. Reichmann OJ, Whitham TG, Ruffner GA (1982) Adaptive geometry of burrow spacing in two pocket gopher populations. Ecology 63:687–695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Romañach SS, Seabloom EW, Reichman OJ, Rogers WE, Cameron GN (2005) Effects of species, sex, age, and habitat on geometry of pocket gopher foraging tunnels. J Mammal 86:750–756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rosi MI, Cona MI, Videla F, Puig S, Roig VG (2000) Architecture of Ctenomys mendocinus (Rodentia) burrows from two habitats differing in abundance and complexity of vegetation. Acta Theriol 45:491–505Google Scholar
  31. Scharff A, Locker-Grutjen O, Kawalika M, Burda H (2001) Natural history of the giant mole-rat, Cryptomys mechowi (Rodentia: Bathyergidae), from Zambia. J Mammal 82:1003–1015CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sichilima AM, Bennett NC, Faulkes CG, Le Comber SC (2008a) Evolution of African mole-rat sociality: burrow architecture, rainfall and foraging in colonies of the cooperatively breeding Fukomys mechowii. J Zool (London) 275:276–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sichilima AM, Faulkes CG, Bennett NC (2008b) Field evidence for seasonality reproduction and colony size in the Afrotropical giant mole-rat, Fukomys mechowii (Rodentia: Bathyergidae). African Zool 43:144–149CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Šklíba J, Šumbera R, Vitámvás M (2011) Resource characteristics and foraging adaptations in the silvery mole-rat (Heliophobius argenteocinereus), a solitary Afrotropical bathyergid. Ecol Research (in press)Google Scholar
  35. Šklíba J, Šumbera R, Chitaukali WN, Burda H (2009) Home-range dynamics in a solitary subterranean rodent. Ethology 115:217–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Smith-Gill SJ (1975) Cytophysiological basis of disruptive pigmentary patterns in the leopard frog Rana pipiens. II. Wild type and mutant cell specific patterns. J Morphol 146:35–54PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Spinks AC, Plaganyi EE (1999) Reduced starvation risks and habitat constraints promote cooperation in the common mole-rat, Cryptomys hottentotus hottentotus: a computer-simulated foraging model. Oikos 85:435–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Spinks AC, Bennett NC, Jarvis JUM (2000) A comparison of ecology of two populations of common mole-rat, Cryptomys hottentotus hottentotus: the effect of aridity on food, foraging and body mass. Oecologia 125:341–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Šumbera R, Burda H, Chitaukali WN, Kubová J (2003) Silvery mole-rats (Heliophobius argenteocinereus, Bathyergidae) change their burrow architecture seasonally. Naturwissenschaften 90:370–373PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Šumbera R, Chitaukali WN, Burda H (2007) Biology of the silvery mole-rat (Heliophobius argenteocinereus). Why study a neglected subterranean rodent species? In: Begall S, Burda H, Schleich CE (eds) Subterranean rodents: news from underground. Springer, Heidelberg, pp 221–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Šumbera R, Šklíba J, Elichová M, Chitaukali WN, Burda H (2008) Natural history and burrow system architecture of the silvery mole-rat from Brachystegia woodland. J Zool (London) 274:77–84Google Scholar
  42. Thomas HG, Bateman PW, Le Comber SC, Bennett NC, Elwood RW, Scantlebury M (2009) Burrow architecture and digging activity in the Cape dune mole rat. J Zool (London) 279:277–284CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wallace EC, Bennett NC (1998) The colony structure and social organization of the giant Zambian mole-rat, Cryptomys mechowi. J Zool (London) 244:51–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zuri I, Terkel J (1996) Locomotor pattern, territory and tunnel utilization in the mole-rat Spalax ehrenbergi. J Zool (London) 240:123–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Mammal Research Institute, Polish Academy of Sciences, Białowieża, Poland 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Radim Šumbera
    • 1
  • Vladimír Mazoch
    • 1
  • Hana Patzenhauerová
    • 2
  • Matěj Lövy
    • 1
  • Jan Šklíba
    • 1
  • Josef Bryja
    • 2
  • Hynek Burda
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Population Biology, Institute of Vertebrate BiologyAcademy of Sciences of the Czech RepublicBrnoCzech Republic
  3. 3.Department of General Zoology, Faculty of BiologyUniversity of Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany

Personalised recommendations