Ecology

Hibernators Take It Slow

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Science  15 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6027, pp. 284
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6027.284-a
CREDIT: GEORGE MCCARTHY/CORBIS

Hibernation is thought to have evolved as a strategy for avoiding extreme environmental conditions in seasonal climates. Hibernators, however, are also found in the tropics and will sometimes continue to hibernate after mild conditions, and plentiful food, return. Other forces, therefore, may act to make hibernation, which is present in nearly half of all mammalian orders, a common strategy. Hibernation lowers metabolism and conserves energy, but as animals enter hidden dens and burrows to hibernate, it also removes them from the external environment, perhaps affecting survival. Turbill et al. reviewed the published literature on 19 species of mammalian hibernators and found that, indeed, annual survival and total life span in hibernating mammals are greater than they are in nonhibernators of the same size. Hibernators also have a “slower pace of life,” including a delay in maturity, lower annual reproductive output, and longer generation time. This analysis suggests that small hibernating mammals may trade high annual reproduction for a longer reproductive life, a successful life history strategy that is seen more often in large, long-lived mammals.

Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B 278, 10.1098/rspb.2011.0190 (2011).

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