Moving out of the night

Cox, D.T.C., Gardner, A.S. & Gaston, K.J. 2021. Diel niche variation in mammals associated with expanded trait space. Nature Communications 12, 1753.

Mammalian life shows huge diversity, but most groups remain nocturnal in their activity pattern. A key unresolved question is whether mammal species that have diversified into different diel niches occupy unique regions of functional trait space. For 5,104 extant mammals we show here that daytime-active species (cathemeral or diurnal) evolved trait combinations along different gradients from those of nocturnal and crepuscular species. Hypervolumes of five major functional traits (body mass, litter size, diet, foraging strata, habitat breadth) reveal that 30% of diurnal trait space is unique, compared to 55% of nocturnal trait space. Almost half of trait space (44%) of species with apparently obligate diel niches is shared with those that can switch, suggesting that more species than currently realised may be somewhat flexible in their activity patterns. Increasingly, conservation measures have focused on protecting functionally unique species; for mammals, protecting functional distinctiveness requires a focus across diel niches.