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Type of publication: Journal Article
Type of document: Full Paper

Year: 2015

Authors: Hoelzl, F; Bieber, C; Cornils, JS; Gerritsmann, H; Stalder, GL; Walzer, C; Ruf, T

Title: How to spend the summer? Free-living dormice (Glis glis) can hibernate for 11 months in non-reproductive years.

Source: J Comp Physiol B. 2015; 185(8):931-939

Authors Vetmeduni Vienna:

Bieber Claudia
Cornils Jessica Svea
Gerritsmann Hanno
Hölzl Franz
Ruf Thomas
Stalder Gabrielle
Walzer Christian

Vetmed Research Units
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Conservation Medicine
Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology

Project(s): Predation risk, stress and life history tactics in the edible dormouse

Edible dormice are arboreal rodents adapted to yearly fluctuations in seed production of European beech, a major food source for this species. In years of low beech seed abundance, dormice skip reproduction and non-reproductive dormice fed ad libitum in captivity can display summer dormancy in addition to winter hibernation. To test whether summer dormancy, that is, a very early onset of hibernation, actually occurs in free-living dormice, we monitored core body temperature (Tb) over ~12 months in 17 animals during a year of beech seeding failure in the Vienna Woods. We found that 8 out of 17 dormice indeed re-entered hibernation as early as in June/July, with five of them having extreme hibernation durations of 11 months or more (total range: 7.8-11.4 months). Thus, we show for the first time that a free-living mammal relying on natural food resources can continuously hibernate for >11 months. Early onset of hibernation was associated with high body mass in the spring, but the distribution of hibernation onset was bimodal with prolonged hibernation starting either early (prior to July 28) or late (after August 30). This could not be explained by differences in body mass alone. Animals with a late hibernation onset continued to maintain high nocturnal Tb"s throughout summer but used short, shallow torpor bouts (mean duration 7.44 ± 0.9 h), as well as occasional multiday torpor for up to 161 h.

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