Hibernation altered by climate change takes a toll on Rocky Mountain animal species

Aug 08, 2012

Climate change is causing a late wake-up call from hibernation for a species of Rocky Mountain ground squirrel and the effect is deadly.

A University of Alberta-led international research team examined data on a population of Columbian ground squirrels and found a trend of late spring snow falls has delayed the animals' emergence from hibernation by 10 days over the last 20 years.

U of A Evolutionary Ecologist Jeff Lane explained that Columbian ground squirrels are on a tight schedule; Females mate four days after emerging from hibernation. They give birth 24 days later. The newborns are nursed for 28 days, and then they're on their own.

"Losing just 10 days during their short active period reduces their opportunity to eat enough food so they can survive through the next hibernation period of eight to nine months," said Lane.

Research shows there's little wiggle room in the ground squirrel's life cycle. The period of , their food supply, is only three to four months long on their home turf, skirting the

"Our data shows that over the life of the study, the survival rate of has fallen by 20 per cent and much of this could be due to late emergence from their burrows brought on by late spring snowfalls, "said Lane. " The researchers say the study area's population has gone from one of growth 20 years ago to its current state of just maintaining population stability.

The study area is a 200-metre by 400-metre block in a sub-alpine meadow west of Calgary. Lane says the data was collected through observation and by trapping and releasing all the in the study area to monitor their condition. The study area was set up by U of A biologists in 1992. Lane began his hibernation study five years ago and collaborated with researchers in Scotland, France and the U of A. Lane was the lead researcher on the paper that was published August 8, in the online edition of the journal Nature.

Explore further: Fewer students study botany, more plant collections closing

More information: DOI: 10.1038/nature11335

Related Stories

Hibernation keeps rabies going in bats

Jun 07, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, infectious disease biologist Dylan George from Colorado State University reports that a bat’s hibernation is wha ...

Scientists make squirrels hibernate

Jul 26, 2011

Hibernation is an essential survival strategy for some animals and scientists have long thought it could also hold promise for human survival. But how hibernation works is largely unknown. Scientists at the ...

Arctic ground squirrels muscle up to hunker down

Sep 15, 2011

When Arctic ground squirrels are getting ready to hibernate they don't just get fat – they pack on muscle at a rate that would make a bodybuilder jealous. And they do it without suffering the harmful effects that high ...

Research: Gray squirrel at risk in Britain

Apr 27, 2008

The gray squirrel population throughout Britain could soon be dominated by a mutant squirrel species whose numbers are dramatically rising, researchers say.

Recommended for you

Birds time breeding to hit 'peak caterpillar'

12 hours ago

When oaks burst into life in spring populations of oak-leaf-eating caterpillars boom: this offers a food bonanza for caterpillar-munching birds looking to raise a family.

11 new species come to light in Madagascar

19 hours ago

Madagascar is home to extraordinary biodiversity, but in the past few decades, the island's forests and associated biodiversity have been under greater attack than ever. Rapid deforestation is affecting the ...

Birds 'weigh' peanuts and choose heavier ones

May 23, 2015

Many animals feed on seeds, acorns or nuts. The common feature of these are that they have shells and there is no direct way to know what's inside. How do the animals know how much and what quality of food ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

StarGazer2011
1 / 5 (3) Aug 08, 2012
Hold on, how does warming cause cooling again?
Maybe there is another cause for this change in a tiny tiny sample size? And two data points dont make a trend. This is really junk pseudo science and a great example of how big green supplys its supporters with cash no matter how poor their level of expertise.

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.