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The underground system of Clyomys laticeps changes in structure and composition according to climatic and vegetation variations


Ecological factors may affect resource availability and distribution, impacting foraging and burrow construction behaviours. Clyomys laticeps is a caviomorph rodent with subterranean habits occurring on the Brazilian Cerrado domain (savanna-like) until the Paraguayan Chaco. We investigated their underground system’s architecture taking into account the vegetation and climate. We hypothesised that the sparse food distribution in the winter would promote longer tunnels and more complex architectures to connect more distant foraging areas, supposing that the species moved underground to avoid predators; moreover, the winter would promote food storage. We excavated eleven Clyomys underground systems and measured their size and internal parameters (tunnel and chamber width, length and depth) and complexity (linearity and convolution). We noticed that half of the systems were in the open landscape (OL) and half on vegetation covered (VL). If the anti-predation theory was right, we would find shorter tunnels on the VL systems. We found systems from 2 to 24 m2 and up to 22 m long. The deeper and biomass scarcer tunnels were on VL during the dry season, supposedly when animals would need underground water but not stocked food (the palm season). Also, they were more complex (higher circularity and convolution indexes) in OL, favouring our anti-predation hypothesis. Furthermore, Clyomys burrows offer refuge for other species such as arthropods, snakes, amphibians, and birds. We conclude that systems’ architecture is related to vegetation presence and seasonal foraging challenges. This rodent may construct its systems for shelter, food storage and as a safe trail among foraging areas.

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The authors want to thank those people whose contribution was essential to making this article happen. The authors are grateful to the IBAMA, especially the ICMBio division, to the São Paulo Forest Institution and Estação Ecológica de Itirapina. They had given the permissions for this research. Also, we are grateful to EBAC’s colleagues and collaborators who helped authors during fieldwork and to Vinicius F. David, who helped in the statistical analyses. Finally, GF wants to thank CSIC—UdelaR and Pedeciba (Uruguay) for financial support during fieldwork in Brazil. This research had the financial support of a grant (to LCL) from Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, CNPq (Brazil) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, CAPES (Brazil) [funding code 001].


This research had financial support of a grant from Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, CNPq, Brazil and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior, CAPES, Brazil [funding code 001].

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All authors contributed to the study’s conception and design. Data collection and analysis were performed by all authors. Lilian Cristina Luchesi performed material preparation. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Lilian Cristina Luchesi, and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to L. C. Luchesi or P. F. Monticelli.

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This work had obtained all mandatory permissions to conduct the study. These permissions include a national licence provided by Sistema de Autorização e Informação em Biodiversidade (SISBio) number: 47539–1, and all the necessary annual renovations; SISBio is national agency from Brazilian Ministério do Meio Ambiente (Environmental Ministry). Environmental Institution approval from Secretaria do Meio Ambiente and Instituto Florestal from Sao Paulo State by Comissão Técnico-Científica do Instituto Florestal (COTEC), number: 5.163/2015. Finally, an institutional ethical approval was given by Comissão de Ética em Pesquisa no Uso de Animais (CEUA), Universidade de São Paulo (animal research ethics committee-USP), number 6569050515.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Luchesi, L.C., Paula, B.C., Monticelli, P.F. et al. The underground system of Clyomys laticeps changes in structure and composition according to climatic and vegetation variations. acta ethol 25, 89–100 (2022).

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  • Burrow system
  • Burrowing
  • Broad-headed spiny rat
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Seasonality
  • Underground space use