Sex-dependent phenological plasticity in an arctic hibernator

Cory T. Williams, C. Loren Buck, Michael J. Sheriff, Melanie M. Richter, Jesse S. Krause, Brian M. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Hibernation provides a means of escaping the metabolic challenges associated with seasonality, yet the ability of mammals to prolong or reenter seasonal dormancy in response to extreme weather events is unclear. Here, we show that Arctic ground squirrels in northern Alaska exhibited sex-dependent plasticity in the physiology and phenology of hibernation in response to a series of late spring snowstorms in 2013 that resulted in the latest snowmelt on record. Females and nonreproductive males responded to the >1-month delay in snowmelt by extending heterothermy or reentering hibernation after several days of euthermy, leading to a >2-week delay in reproduction compared to surrounding years. In contrast, reproductive males neither extended nor reentered hibernation, likely because seasonal gonadal growth and development and subsequent testosterone release prevents a return to torpor. Our findings reveal intriguing differences in responses of males and females to climatic stressors, which can generate a phenological mismatch between the sexes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)854-859
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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