The effects of ambient temperature and lighting intensity on wheel-running behavior in a diurnal rodent, the Nile grass rat (Arvicanthis niloticus)

J Comp Psychol. 2019 May;133(2):215-222. doi: 10.1037/com0000154. Epub 2018 Nov 5.


Environmental conditions, such as the light-dark cycle and temperature, affect the display of circadian rhythmicity and locomotor activity patterns in mammals. Here, we tested the hypothesis that manipulating these environmental conditions would affect wheel-running activity patterns in a diurnal rodent, the Nile grass rat (Arvicanthis niloticus). Grass rats are diurnal in the field, however, a subset switch from a day-active pattern to a night-active pattern of activity after the introduction of a running wheel. The mechanism of this chronotype switch remains largely unknown. In the present study, grass rats were presented with running wheels in 12:12 light-dark conditions. First, subjects were exposed to 25 °C during the day and 21 °C at night, which resulted in 100% of grass rats expressing diurnal behavior. Subjects were then exposed to manipulations of elevated ambient temperature, which resulted in a significant reduction in wheel-running activity. Reducing ambient temperature below 21 °C, however, did not disrupt the expression of diurnality or overall activity. Next, lighting intensity was reduced, which resulted in a switch from a diurnal to a nocturnal chronotype in a subset of animals and reduced overall wheel-running activity. Upon return to baseline lighting intensity, patterns of diurnal activity were restored. Altogether, increases in ambient temperature and decreases in lighting intensity significantly reduced overall wheel-running activity. Importantly, dim light resulted in a temporal niche switch in a subset of grass rats, suggesting a critical role for lighting intensity on the expression of wheel-running activity patterns. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Muridae
  • Photoperiod*
  • Temperature*