Indexed on: 19 Aug '07Published on: 19 Aug '07Published in: Chronobiology international
Examples of animals that switch activity times between nocturnality and diurnality in nature are relatively infrequent. Furthermore, the mechanism for switching activity time is not clear: does a complete inversion of the circadian system occur in conjunction with activity pattern? Are there switching centers downstream from the internal clock that interpret the clock differently? Or does the switch reflect a masking effect? Answering these key questions may shed light on the mechanisms regulating activity patterns and their evolution. The golden spiny mouse (Acomys russatus) can switch between nocturnal and diurnal activity. This study investigated the relationship between its internal circadian clock and its diurnal activity pattern observed in the field. The goal is to understand the mechanisms underlying species rhythm shifts in order to gain insight into the evolution of activity patterns. All golden spiny mice had opposite activity patterns in the field than those under controlled continuous dark conditions in the laboratory. Activity and body temperature patterns in the field were diurnal, while in the laboratory all individuals immediately showed a free-running rhythm starting with a nocturnal pattern. No phase transients were found toward the preferred nocturnal activity pattern, as would be expected in the case of true entrainment. Moreover, the fact that the free-running activity patterns began from the individuals' subjective night suggests that golden spiny mice are nocturnal and that their diurnality in their natural habitat in the field results from a change that is downstream to the internal clock or reflects a masking effect.