The regulation of daily and circannual activity patterns is an important mechanism by which animals may balance energetic requirements associated with both abiotic and biotic variables. Using collar-mounted accelerometers, we assess the relative importance of reproductive stage and environmental conditions on the overall dynamic body acceleration (ODBA) of free-living striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis). We found that activity timing relative to photoperiod varied across seasonal stages for both sexes. Surprisingly, male skunks did not commence activity earlier than females during the mating interval. Moreover, while female skunks began activity before dusk and terminated activity after dawn during midthrough late summer (lactation period), the duration of activity bouts in females during this period was not different from other seasons. Both male and female skunks exhibited high variability and fragmentation in daily activity rhythms except during the lactation period, when females appear to switch to prolonged bouts of nocturnal activity. Overall, ODBA varied by season and sex, with changes in ODBA indicative of seasonal reproductive requirements such as conspecific competition for mates in males and lactation in females. Weather conditions had little effect on skunk activity levels except during the winter season, when snow cover and temperature negatively influenced daily ODBA. Taken together, the activity patterns of striped skunks appear to be primarily driven by seasonal investment in reproduction and secondarily by thermoregulatory constraints during the non-winter months. Our results highlight the importance of considering how environmental and reproductive drivers may interact to affect activity across both the daily and seasonal cycle.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Plant Science