Sbiophysical modeling of the temporal niche: From first principles to the evolution of activity patterns

Ofir Levy*, Tamar Dayan, Noga Kronfeld-Schor, Warren P. Porter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Most mammals can be characterized as nocturnal or diurnal. However infrequently, species may overcome evolutionary constraints and alter their activity patterns. We modeled the fundamental temporal niche of a diurnal desert rodent, the golden spiny mouse, Acomys russatus. This species can shift into nocturnal activity in the absence of its congener, the common spiny mouse, Acomys cahirinus, suggesting that it was competitively driven into diurnality and that this shift in a small desert rodent may involve physiological costs. Therefore, we compared metabolic costs of diurnal versus nocturnal activity using a biophysical model to evaluate the preferred temporal niche of this species. The model predicted that energy expenditure during foraging is almost always lower during the day except during midday in summer at the less sheltered microhabitat. We also found that a shift in summer to foraging in less sheltered microhabitats in response to predation pressure and food availability involves a significant physiological cost moderated by midday reduction in activity. Thus, adaptation to diurnality may reflect the "ghost of competition past"; climate-driven diurnality is an alternative but less likely hypothesis. While climate is considered to play a major role in the physiology and evolution of mammals, this is the first study to model its potential to affect the evolution of activity patterns of mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)794-804
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Biophysical ecology
  • Climate
  • Diurnality
  • Golden spiny mice
  • Microhabitat
  • Species activity patterns modeling


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