Circadian rhythms enhance survival and reproductive fitness of animals by promoting optimal timing of behavior and physiology with reference to geophysical changes in environment. Although light is considered the dominant stimulus for entraining circadian rhythms, social stimuli can also act as zeitgebers. The aim of this study was to analyze how Desert hamsters (Phodopus roborovskii) coordinate their behavior in time with that of animals of another competing species (Mongolian gerbils, Meriones unguiculatus).
First, the behavior of hamsters was analyzed during a step-wise avoidance test. Two effects were observed: a) spatial separation if it was possible or b) shortening of the activity period due to contact without chance for avoidance. The latter finding was now further analyzed using a phase response Curve (PRC). Here. phase shifts of Desert hamsters caused by single social interactions with Mongolian gerbils were quantified. Phase advances during the rest period were found at CT3 and CT9, a similar tendency was observed at CT6. A second phase advance was determined at CT18, coinciding with the end of the activity period. Then, it was tested whether additional activity during the stimulus was a trigger for the phase response. Although an increase in activity occurred especially when stimuli were applied during the rest period, there was no general relation between additional activity measured and the phase response shown.
Overall, relevance of interspecific contact as nonphotic zeitgeber was indicated by phase shifts in a phase response curve. The shape of it can be explained by two behavioral adaptations: stress and contact avoidance. (c) 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.