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: The delicate balance of outrunning a predator

Related Stories

The delicate balance of outrunning a predator

August 26, 2015

Imagine you are crossing a stream over a fallen log. How fast would you walk across? Probably fairly slowly, balancing carefully as you go. Now imagine you are being chased by a bear. How fast should you cross the stream?

Widest distribution of mammoths during the last Ice Age

August 25, 2015

Ice Age paleontologist Prof. Dr. Ralf-Dietrich Kahlke of the Senckenberg Research Station for Quaternary Paleontology in Weimar recorded the maximum geographic distribution of the woolly mammoth during the last Ice Age and ...

Hepatitis A-like virus identified in seals

August 25, 2015

Scientists in the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have discovered a new virus in seals that is the closest known relative of the human hepatitis A virus. The finding ...

Recommended for you

Clues from ancient Maya reveal lasting impact on environment

September 3, 2015

Evidence from the tropical lowlands of Central America reveals how Maya activity more than 2,000 years ago not only contributed to the decline of their environment but continues to influence today's environmental conditions, ...

How to curb emissions? Put a price on carbon

September 3, 2015

Literally putting a price on carbon pollution and other greenhouse gasses is the best approach for nurturing the rapid growth of renewable energy and reducing emissions.

Fighting explosives pollution with plants

September 3, 2015

Biologists at the University of York have taken an important step in making it possible to clean millions of hectares of land contaminated by explosives.

0 comments

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.