Thermoregulatory changes anticipate hibernation onset by 45 days: Data from free-living arctic ground squirrels

Michael J. Sheriff, Cory T. Williams, G. J. Kenagy, C. Loren Buck, Brian M. Barnes

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48 Scopus citations


Hibernation is a strategy of reducing energy expenditure, body temperature (Tb) and activity used by endotherms to escape unpredictable or seasonally reduced food availability. Despite extensive research on thermoregulatory adjustments during hibernation, less is known about transitions in thermoregulatory state, particularly under natural conditions. Laboratory studies on hibernating ground squirrels have demonstrated that thermoregulatory adjustments may occur over short intervals when animals undergo several brief, preliminary torpor bouts prior to entering multiday torpor. These short torpor bouts have been suggested to reflect a resetting of hypothalamic regions that control Tb or to precondition animals before they undergo deep, multiday torpor. Here, we examined continuous records of Tb in 240 arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii) prior to hibernation in the wild and in captivity. In free-living squirrels, Tb began to decline 45 days prior to hibernation, and average Tb had decreased 4. 28 °C at the onset of torpor. Further, we found that 75 % of free-living squirrels and 35 % of captive squirrels entered bouts of multiday torpor with a single Tb decline and without previously showing short preliminary bouts. This study provides evidence that adjustments in the thermoregulatory component of hibernation begin far earlier than previously demonstrated. The gradual reduction in Tb is likely a component of the suite of metabolic and behavioral adjustments, controlled by an endogenous, circannual rhythm, that vary seasonally in hibernating ground squirrels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-847
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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