Lunar illumination shapes small mammal activity in lowland agricultural landscapes

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Carl Soulsbury


The behavioural patterns of small mammalian prey species have been shown to be widely impacted by predator avoidance. Cues to avoid predation may come from the predator itself or environmental cues, such as moonlight and available vegetative cover. We investigated how the activity of the bank vole Myodes glareolus, field vole Microtus agrestis, wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus and the common shrew Sorex araneus were impacted by changes in habitat and lunar light conditions across a range of habitats (mainly grassland protected sites) in Lincolnshire (UK). Microhabitat vegetation density as well as weather conditions were recorded across all trap sites, with Longworth traps set overnight and the successfully captured species recorded the following morning. Overnight temperature was found to positively influence capture rate across all species. The lunar phase was found to significantly impact capture rate, with the gibbous lunar phase providing the highest capture rate across species. The interaction between illumination and vegetation density was also found to impact activity levels in the bank vole and wood mouse, with the bank vole showing higher activity in thick vegetation at low light levels and across habitats at higher light levels, whereas wood mice were more often captured in intermediate cover at low and intermediate illumination but across a range of habitats at brighter illumination. In combination, it suggests that small mammal activity is altered to potentially reduce predation risk. However, in this community at least, brighter lunar illumination leads to increase activity.  

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Soulsbury, C. (2021). Lunar illumination shapes small mammal activity in lowland agricultural landscapes. European Journal of Ecology, 7(1).


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