Living in a safe predictable world

The underground ecotope is not only challenging, it is also quite safe from predators. Certainly, naked mole-rats would not be able to survive in any other ecotope than in the safe, humid, and ultraviolet-light-protected underground burrows. No wonder that convergent patterns can be seen also in life histories of subterranean mammals. They all show tendencies to K-strategy, breed rather slowly, have slow and long prenatal and postnatal development, slow rates of growth, and unusually long lifespans (an age of over 25 years has been recorded in the naked mole-rat in captivity, and there is an African mole-rat, Cryptomys anselli, that is at least 22 years old and is still breeding). On the proximate level, slow growth is surely correlated with low metabolic rates. However, the effect of phylogeny is very strong and phylogenetic relationships can best explain the length of pregnancy and many other parameters of life histories, such as mating behavior and mating system, as well as social systems.

In spite of all the similarities of the subterranean ecotope, there are differences in many of its biotic and abiotic parameters in different geographic regions and different habitats, which in turn also influence underground dwellers. Thus, subterranean mammals may serve not only as an example for convergent evolution but they provide cases to study adaptive divergence as well.

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