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Current nest box designs may not be optimal for the larger forest dormice; pre-hibernation increase in body mass might lead to sampling bias in ecological data

Citation

Farhadi, Hesamaddin (2022), Current nest box designs may not be optimal for the larger forest dormice; pre-hibernation increase in body mass might lead to sampling bias in ecological data, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.sj3tx9664

Abstract

Biologists commonly use nest boxes to study small arboreal mammals, including forest dormouse (Dryomys nitedula). Hibernating dormouse species often experience pronounced seasonal variations in body mass, which might lead to sampling biases if it is not taken into account when designing nest boxes. In our study of forest dormouse, we noticed that the entrance hole of nest boxes had been gnawed on. We hypothesized that this behavior was exhibited by individual dormice who had higher body mass and, therefore, were unable to pass through the entrance holes. To test our hypothesis, we categorized individual dormice present inside nest boxes based on their body mass; then compared the seasonal body mass dynamics with the timing of the gnawing behavior. We also compared nest box occupancy by forest dormouse before and after the gnawing behavior. Interestingly, we found that the gnawing behavior was displayed exclusively when part of the dormouse population increased considerably in body mass, which supports our hypothesis. Additionally, nest box occupancy decreased significantly from 20% before to 4.6% after the gnawing behavior. We suggest that researchers use nest boxes with entrance holes larger than 4 cm in future studies of forest dormouse to prevent the possible exclusion of the conspecifics that have higher body mass before hibernation. This type of sampling bias can probably happen in studies of other species, such as fat dormouse, that similarly show pronounced seasonal variations in body mass. We recommend that biologists consider the seasonal body mass dynamics of the target species when designing nest boxes to minimize bias in ecological data and improve management actions.

Methods

I surveyed 65 nest boxes for dormice in North-western Iran in late-September and early-November 2019. I considered a nest box occupied only if one or more dormice were present in the nest box at the time of visit. 0=occupied, and 1=unoccupied.