Mammals that hibernate or burrow less likely to go extinct

January 28, 2009

The best way to survive the ill-effects of climate change and pollution may be to simply sleep through it.

According to a new study published in The American Naturalist, mammals that hibernate or that hide in burrows are less likely to turn up on an endangered species list. The study's authors believe that the ability of such "sleep-or-hide" animals to buffer themselves from changing environments may help them avoid extinction.

The idea that sleepers and hiders may have a survival advantage first arose from a study of the fossil record conducted by Dr. Lee Hsiang Liow of the University of Oslo. That study found that sleep-or-hide mammals seem to last longer as species than other mammals.

In this latest study, Liow and colleagues from the Universities of Oslo and Helsinki wanted to see if this trend holds for mammals living today.

Using a database of over 4,500 living mammal species, Liow and his team identified 443 mammals that exhibit at least one sleep-or-hide behavior. Their list includes tunneling and burrowing animals like moles and chipmunks, as well as animals that can periodically lower metabolic rates like squirrels, bats and bears.

The sleep-or-hide list was then compared with "Red List" of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. As the researchers suspected, sleep-or-hide species are less likely appear in any of the IUCN's high-risk categories. The pattern holds even under controls for other traits that may influence extinction rates, such as body size (smaller animals generally have lower extinction rates) and geographic distribution.

Despite these results, sleepers and hiders shouldn't be viewed as evolutionary "winners," the authors say.

"Sleep-or-hide species survive longer, but in a changing world they run the risk of eventually becoming seriously obsolete," says Mikael Fortelius of the University of Helsinki, one of the study's authors. "Species that don't sleep or hide are short-lived, but they may be more likely to leave successful descendants.

"In a way it's the classic choice between security and progress."

Reference: Lee Hsiang Liow, Mikael Fortelius, Kari Lintulaakso, Heikki Mannila, and Nils Chr. Stenseth, "Lower Extinction Risk in Sleep-or-Hide Mammals," The American Naturalist, Feb. 2009

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: To breathe or to eat: Blue whales forage efficiently to maintain massive body size

Related Stories

Grasses, mammals, and their co-evolution

October 1, 2015

After millions of years of amphibians, dinosaurs, and early mammals ruling the forests and swamps of the hot, humid Mesozoic and early Cenozoic, a new habitat emerged. Small patches of grasslands sprang up and spread as the ...

Accurate timing of migration prolongs life expectancy in pike

October 1, 2015

Animal migration is a spectacular phenomenon that has fascinated humans for long. It is widely assumed that appropriate timing of migratory events is crucial for survival, but the causes and consequences of individual variation ...

Are the blueprints for limbs encoded in the snake genome?

October 1, 2015

Hundreds of millions of years ago, a common ancestor of mammals, birds, and reptiles evolved a phallus. We don't know much about phallus evolution (external genitalia generally don't mineralize, so the fossil record is of ...

Recommended for you

Horn of Africa drying ever faster as climate warms

October 9, 2015

The Horn of Africa has become increasingly arid in sync with the global and regional warming of the last century and at a rate unprecedented in the last 2,000 years, according to new research led by a University of Arizona ...

Scientists paint quantum electronics with beams of light

October 9, 2015

A team of scientists from the University of Chicago and the Pennsylvania State University have accidentally discovered a new way of using light to draw and erase quantum-mechanical circuits in a unique class of materials ...

What are white holes?

October 9, 2015

Black holes are created when stars die catastrophically in a supernova. So what in the universe is a white hole?

Could 'The Day After Tomorrow' happen?

October 9, 2015

A researcher from the University of Southampton has produced a scientific study of the climate scenario featured in the disaster movie 'The Day After Tomorrow'.

A mission to a metal world—The Psyche mission

October 9, 2015

In their drive to set exploration goals for the future, NASA's Discovery Program put out the call for proposals for their thirteenth Discovery mission in February 2014. After reviewing the 27 initial proposals, a panel of ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.