Circannual variations of lizard circadian activity rhythms in constant darkness
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The daily pattern of locomotor activity of Podarcis sicula in the field changes from unimodal in spring to bimodal in summer, becoming unimodal again in autumn. Short-term experiments in which P. sicula collected in different months were tested under constant conditions immediately after capture showed that the activity pattern typical of each season is retained in the lizard circadian locomotor rhythm. In constant conditions, the bimodal pattern is associated with a short free-running period (τ) of the circadian locomotor rhythm and a long circadian activity (α), while the unimodal pattern is associated with a long τ and short α. To test whether seasonal changes in circadian locomotor rhythms are driven by a circannual clock, we recorded locomotor activity of lizards over 12–15 months in constant temperature and darkness. The present results demonstrate, for the first time in a vertebrate, the existence of circannual changes in constant darkness of both τ and α. In most lizards, the longest τ along its circannual cycle is associated with a short α, and the shortest τ in the same cycle with a long α, so that the pattern of mutual association between τ and α is the same as in short-term experiments. Most lizards, however, stayed unimodal all the time. This shows that changes in activity pattern from unimodal to bimodal (and vice versa) are induced by seasonal changes in environmental factors, instead of being incorporated into a circannual rhythm. Circannual changes in τ and α of locomotor rhythms may adaptively predispose the circadian system of P. sicula to a change in activity pattern as soon as seasonal changes in the environment demand it.
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