Climate change deprives dormice of winter sleep

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Many mammals become dormant for the winter, conserving energy and avoiding predators during the colder months. New research published in functional ecology shows that this winter rest is important to rodent survival, but may be lost as the climate warms.

DormousHibernation002

Hibernation and winter dormancy is common among mammals living in temperate climates. From dormice to jumping mice, squirrels and marmots, hibernation is tried and tested adaptation for surviving cold winters, and lasts between 75 and .

Across of mouse, chipmunk, squirrel, prairie dog and ground hog, the team found shorter periods of dormancy and lower survival rates when average temperatures were higher. For every 1 °C rise in annual temperature, the rodents’ hibernation was 8.6 days shorter, and survival decreased by 5.1%. This effect was not present in non-hibernating species, such as tree voles and kangaroo rats, suggesting that hibernators may be more vulnerable to climatic change.

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This range applies to the 14 hibernating rodents considered in this study. The marathon hibernation of 278 days belongs to the Western Jumping Mouse (Zapus princeps). The groundhog (Marmota monax) naturally has the shortest sleep out of this selection of species (75 days).

The species considered in this study were:

(H indicates that they hibernate, NH that they do not hibernate)

  • Edible dormouse (Glis glis) H
  • Garden Dormouse (em>Eliomys quercinus/em>) H
  • Hazel Dormouse (em>Muscardinus avellanarius/em>) H
  • Woodland jumping mouse (em>Napaeozapus insignis/em>) H
  • Meadow jumping mouse (em>Zapus hudsonius/em>) H
  • Western jumping mouse (em>Zapus princeps/em>) H
  • Darwin’s leaf-eared mouse (em>Phyllotis darwini/em>) NH
  • Yellow-necked mouse (em>Apodemus flavicollis/em>) NH
  • Keen’s mouse (em>Peromyscus keeni/em>) NH
  • Deer mouse (em>Peromyscus maniculatus/em>) NH
  • Red tree vole (em>Arborimus longicaudus/em>) NH
  • Southern red-backed vole (Cem>lethrionomys gapperi/em>) NH
  • Bank Vole (em>Clethrionomys glareolus/em>) NH
  • Tundra vole (em>Microtus oeconomus/em>) NH
  • Dusky-footed woodrat (em>Neotoma fuscipes/em>) NH
  • Ord’s Kangaroo Rat (em>Dipodomys ordii/em>) NH
  • Banner-tailed kangaroo rat (em>Dipodomys spectabilis/em>) NH
  • Stephens’ kangaroo rat (em>Dipodomys stephensi/em>) NH
  • East African mole-rat (em>Tachyoryctes splendens/em>) NH
  • Townsend Chipmunk (em>Spermophilus townsendii/em>) H
  • Golden-mantled ground squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis/em>) H
  • Uinta ground squirrel (em>Spermophilus armatus/em>) H
  • American red squirrel (em>Tamiasciurus hudsonicus/em>) NH
  • Eastern gray squirrel (em>Sciurus carolinensis/em>) NH
  • Columbian ground squirrel (em>Spermophilus columbianu/em>) H
  • Daurian ground squirrel (em>Spermophilus dauricus/em>) H
  • Alpine Marmot (em>Marmota marmota/em>) H
  • Yellow-bellied marmot (em>Marmota flaviventris/em>) H
  • Groundhog (em>Marmota monax) H

Featured image used under a creative commons licence from wikimedia commons. Original image by Björn Schulz.

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