Creeping in the night: What might ecologists be missing?

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Wildlife activity patterns tend to be defined by terms such as diurnal and nocturnal that might not fully depict the complexity of a species' life history strategy and behavior in a given system. These activity pattern categories often influence the methodological approaches employed, including the temporal period of study (daylight or nighttime). We evaluated banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) behavior in Northern Botswana through the use of remote sensing cameras at active den sites in order to characterize early morning behavior for this diurnal species. Our approach, however, provided the facility to capture unexpected nocturnal activity in a species that had otherwise only been studied during daylight hours. Camera traps were deployed for 215 trap days (24 hour data capture period) at den sites, capturing 5,472 photos over all events. Nocturnal activity was identified in 3% of trap days at study den sites with both vigilant and non-vigilant nocturnal behaviors identified. While vigilant behaviors involved troop fleeing responses, observations of non-vigilant behaviors suggest nonresident mongoose may investigate den sites of other troops during nocturnal time periods. There was no association between the occurrence of nocturnal activity and lunar phase (Fisher's exact test, n = 215, p = 0.638) and thus, increased moonlight was not identified as a factor influencing nocturnal behavior. The drivers and fitness consequences of these nocturnal activities remain uncertain and present intriguing areas for future research. Our findings highlight the need for ecological studies to more explicitly address and evaluate the potential for temporal variability in activity periods. Modifying our approach and embracing variation in wildlife activity patterns might provide new insights into the interaction between ecological phenomenon and species biology that spans the diurnal-nocturnal spectrum.