When the sun never sets: Diverse activity rhythms under continuous daylight in free-living arctic-breeding birds

Silke Steiger, Mihai Valcu, K. Spoelstra, Barbara Helm, Martin Wikelski, Bart Kempenaers

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Abstract

Circadian clocks are centrally involved in the regulation of daily behavioural and physiological processes. These clocks are synchronized to the 24 h day by external cues (Zeitgeber), the most important of which is the light–dark cycle. In polar environments, however, the strength of the Zeitgeber is greatly reduced around the summer and winter solstices (continuous daylight or continuous darkness). How animals time their behaviour under such conditions has rarely been studied in the wild. Using a radio-telemetry-based system, we investigated daily activity rhythms under continuous daylight in Barrow,
Alaska, throughout the breeding season in four bird species that differ in mating system and parental behaviour. We found substantial diversity in daily activity rhythms depending on species, sex and breeding stage. Individuals exhibited either robust, entrained 24 h activity cycles, were continuously active (arrhythmic) or showed ‘free-running’ activity cycles. In semipalmated
sandpipers, a shorebird with biparental incubation, we show that the free-running rhythm is synchronized between pair mates. The diversity of diel timekeeping under continuous daylight emphasizes the plasticity of the circadian system, and the importance of the social and life-history context. Our results support the idea that circadian behaviour can be adaptively modified to
enable species-specific time-keeping under polar conditions
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Volume280
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • international

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