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Journal of Comparative Psychology

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American Psychological Association




©American Psychological Association, 2019. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. Please do not copy or cite without author's permission. The final article is available, upon publication, at:


Environmental conditions, such as the light-dark cycle and temperature, affect the display of circadian rhythmicity and locomotor activity patterns in mammals. Here, we tested the hypothesis that manipulating these environmental conditions would affect wheel-running activity patterns in a diurnal rodent, the Nile grass rat (Arvicanthis niloticus). Grass rats are diurnal in the field, however, a subset switch from a day-active pattern to a night-active pattern of activity after the introduction of a running wheel. The mechanism of this chronotype switch remains largely unknown. In the present study, grass rats were presented with running wheels in 12:12 light-dark conditions. First, subjects were exposed to 25 °C during the day and 21 °C at night, which resulted in 100% of grass rats expressing diurnal behavior. Subjects were then exposed to manipulations of elevated ambient temperature, which resulted in a significant reduction in wheel-running activity. Reducing ambient temperature below 21 °C, however, did not disrupt the expression of diurnality or overall activity. Next, lighting intensity was reduced, which resulted in a switch from a diurnal to a nocturnal chronotype in a subset of animals and reduced overall wheel-running activity. Upon return to baseline lighting intensity, patterns of diurnal activity were restored. Altogether, increases in ambient temperature and decreases in lighting intensity significantly reduced overall wheel-running activity. Importantly, dim light resulted in a temporal niche switch in a subset of grass rats, suggesting a critical role for lighting intensity on the expression of wheel-running activity patterns.


temperature, circadian, light, environment, behavior