Evolutionary plasticity is limited, to a certain extent, by phylogenetic constraints. We asked whether the diel activity patterns of animals reflect their phylogenies by analyzing daily activity patterns in the order Rodentia. We carried out a literature survey of activity patterns of 700 species, placing each in an activity time category: diurnal, nocturnal, or active at both periods (a-rhythmic). The proportion of rodents active at these categories in the entire order, was compared to the activity patterns of species of different families for which we had data for over ten species each: Dipodidae, Echimyidae, Geomyidae, Heteromyidae, Muridae, and Sciuridae. Activity times of rodents from different habitat types were also compared to the ordinal activity time pattern. We also calculated the probability that two random species (from a particular subgroup: family, habitat, etc.) will be active in the same period of the day and compared it to this probability with species drawn from the entire order. Activity patterns at the family level were significantly different from the ordinal pattern, emphasizing the strong relationship between intra-family taxonomic affiliation and daily activity patterns. Large families (Muridae and Sciuridae) analyzed by subfamilies and tribes showed a similar but stronger pattern than that of the family level. Thus it is clear that phylogeny constrains the evolution of activity patterns in rodents, and may limit their ability to use the time niche axis for ecological separation. Rodents living in cold habitats differed significantly from the ordinal pattern, showing more diurnal and a-rhythmic activity patterns, possibly due to physiological constraints. Ground-dwelling rodents differed significantly, showing a high tendency towards a-rhythmic activity, perhaps reflecting their specialized habitat.
- Activity patterns