High-latitude voles and lemmings undergo strong seasonal changes in their behavior and physiology, which may lead to concurrent changes in bone mineral density (BMD). We tested whether the BMD of northern red-backed voles (Myodes rutilus) in Alaska changed seasonally, and if so, whether these changes in their weight-bearing bones were correlated with seasonal changes in photoperiod (a mediator of activity and concentrations of reproductive hormones in high-latitude voles and lemmings), body mass, body length, or a combination of these. We used dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry to measure the BMD of the femur and humerus of voles collected in different seasons. BMDs increased dramatically from the start of spring to their peak level in early summer, and then decreased gradually to their lowest point in late winter. BMDs were significantly lower in fall and winter than in spring and early summer. BMDs of long bones were significantly correlated with both body mass and photoperiod, which accounted for 46.2% and 45.7% of the variation in the BMDs of femur and humerus, respectively. The strong changes that we observed in BMD are likely to be due, in part, to the combined effects of strong seasonal changes in body mass, activity, and baseline levels of reproductive hormones.
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