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Resource characteristics and foraging adaptations in the silvery mole-rat (Heliophobius argenteocinereus), a solitary Afrotropical bathyergid

Abstract

The African mole rats (Bathyergidae) is a rodent family unique for subterranean life and diverse social systems. Solitary species are thought to be confined to areas with abundant, evenly distributed food resources and easily workable soils, which favors early natal dispersal and independent reproduction. However, there is a paucity of empirical data confirming this assumption. We examined ecological conditions of a typical natural habitat of the solitary silvery mole-rat (Heliophobius argenteocinereus), which is the Miombo woodland, and we identified behavioral and other adaptations which potentially improve its foraging success. We also tested food selectivity of captive mole-rats. In the Miombo, mole-rat food resources were clumped, but relatively ample. This, along with a predictable and relatively short period of year with dry and difficult-to-work soil, creates relatively moderate ecological conditions. Analysis of food stores showed that food storing alone probably does not secure enough food to overcome the advanced dry season in this species. In light of this, several other adaptations, such as food generalism and area-restricted search can assist silvery mole-rats retaining positive energy balance during these times. Food-preference tests showed that silvery mole-rats prefer tubers with high sugar content, followed by those with high water content.

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Acknowledgments

All manipulation with captive and wild-captured animals was approved by the National Research Council of Malawi (NRCM), the Research and Publications Committee, University of Malawi, Chancellor College, and the Control Commission for Ethical Treatment of Animals, University of South Bohemia, Faculty of Science, Czech Republic (17864/2005-30/300). We thank the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology Committee (GRBC) and the Technical Committee of the NRCM for permission to carry out our research in Malawi. We are grateful to Tamsin and Stephen Christie for allowing us to work at their estate, and for precipitation records. We thank our colleagues from the National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens, Zomba, especially to Augustine Salubeni, for identification of plants. We thank Pavel Vrbka for analyzing the energy content of geophytes, Jaromír Kadlec for analyzing the fiber content, and Štěpán Janeček for analyzing the polysaccharides. We are grateful to Wilbert Chitaukali and the Chancellor College, University of Malawi, for kind cooperation, Thomas Boniface, Moses Aphiri, and Markéta Elichová for their help in the field, and Rachel Danna for proofreading this article. The study was funded by MSMT (6007665801) and GAAV (KJB601410826 and 32-IAA601410802).

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Correspondence to Jan Šklíba.

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Šklíba, J., Šumbera, R. & Vitámvás, M. Resource characteristics and foraging adaptations in the silvery mole-rat (Heliophobius argenteocinereus), a solitary Afrotropical bathyergid. Ecol Res 26, 1081–1088 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-011-0860-1

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Keywords

  • Food selection
  • Food storing
  • Foraging adaptation
  • Bathyergidae
  • Subterranean rodent