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, 17 (7), e3000360

Activity Patterns in Mammals: Circadian Dominance Challenged


Activity Patterns in Mammals: Circadian Dominance Challenged

David G Hazlerigg et al. PLoS Biol.


The evidence that diel patterns of physiology and behaviour in mammals are governed by circadian 'clocks' is based almost entirely on studies of nocturnal rodents. The emergent circadian paradigm, however, neglects the roles of energy metabolism and alimentary function (feeding and digestion) as determinants of activity pattern. The temporal control of activity varies widely across taxa, and ungulates, microtine rodents, and insectivores provide examples in which circadian timekeeping is vestigial. The nocturnal rodent/human paradigm of circadian organisation is unhelpful when considering the broader manifestation of activity patterns in mammals.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Circadian organisation is not ubiquitous in mammals.
Activity patterning in (from the top) humans, mice (Mus musculus), voles (M. arvalis), and reindeer (R. tarandus) under 24-h LCs and NLCs. All four species display pronounced 24-h rhythms of activity under LC. These rhythms persist under NLC in humans and mice but not in voles and reindeer. Data for humans are from bunker experiments in which subjects were initially exposed to changes in light intensity synchronised to the solar day (LC) and then allowed to free-run with only self-imposed changes in light level (NLC [6]). For mice and voles, experimental light and dark phases are represented by horizontal white and brown bars, respectively. For the reindeer, free-living in their natural environment, natural photoperiod (onset and offset of civil twilight) is indicated by vertical yellow lines on the first day of each actogram, and the NLC regime was the polar night at 78° north latitude. Data for one individual of each species under each light regime are presented as double-plotted actograms. Black bars represent activity. LC, light–dark cycle; NLC, no-light cycle. Redrawn from [–9].
Fig 2
Fig 2. Relationship between Tlc (°C) and body mass (g) in mammals.
The Tlc is defined as the ambient temperature below which the rate of metabolic heat production must be increased in order to maintain homeothermy. Of all species with Tlc above the global mean surface temperature (14°C, horizontal dashed line; [11]), humans (Tlc range from 23 to 33°C; [16,17]) are the most massive, and of all species with a body mass above 50 kg (vertical dashed line), humans have the highest Tlc. For clarity, the figure includes only data for a limited number of taxa (humans, Carnivora, nonhuman primates, Rodentia, ruminants). However, the shape of the relationship between body mass and Tlc does not change when data for other groups are included (Chiroptera, Cingulata, Dasyuromorphia, Diprotodontia, Erinaceomorpha, Eulipotyphla, Hyracoidea, Lagomorpha, Macroscelidea, Monotremata, Peramelemorphia, and Soricomorpha). Species data indicated by silhouettes are, clockwise from the left, for voles (M. arvalis), mice (M. musculus), humans, and reindeer (R. tarandus). Data from [12,13,18,19]. Tlc, lower critical temperature.

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Grant support

DGH was supported by HFSP program grant RGP0030/2015-C301 "Evolution of seasonal timers". The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.