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Foraging Activity Pattern Is Shaped by Water Loss Rates in a Diurnal Desert Rodent

Although animals fine-tune their activity to avoid excess heat, we still lack a mechanistic understanding of such behaviors. As the global climate changes, such understanding is particularly important for projecting shifts in the activity patterns of populations and communities. We studied how foraging decisions vary with biotic and abiotic pressures. By tracking the foraging behavior of diurnal desert spiny mice in their natural habitat and estimating the energy and water costs and benefits of foraging, we asked how risk management and thermoregulatory requirements affect foraging decisions. We found that water requirements had the strongest effect on the observed foraging decisions. In their arid environment, mice often lose water while foraging for seeds and cease foraging even at high energetic returns when water loss is high. Mice also foraged more often when energy expenditure was high and for longer times under high seed densities and low predation risks. Gaining insight into both energy and water balance will be crucial to understanding the forces exerted by changing climatic conditions on animal energetics, behavior, and ecology.