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Physiol Biochem Zool. 2003 Mar-Apr;76(2):165-79.

The role of energy availability in Mammalian hibernation: a cost-benefit approach.

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  • 1Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Avenue Docteur Penfield, Montreal, Quebec H3A 1B1, Canada.


Hibernation is widely regarded as an adaptation to seasonal energy shortage, but the actual influence of energy availability on hibernation patterns is rarely considered. Here we review literature on the costs and benefits of torpor expression to examine the influence that energy may have on hibernation patterns. We first establish that the dichotomy between food- and fat-storing hibernators coincides with differences in diet rather than body size and show that small or large species pursuing either strategy have considerable potential scope in the amount of torpor needed to survive winter. Torpor expression provides substantial energy savings, which increase the chance of surviving a period of food shortage and emerging with residual energy for early spring reproduction. However, all hibernating mammals periodically arouse to normal body temperatures during hibernation. The function of these arousals has long been speculated to involve recovery from physiological costs accumulated during metabolic depression, and recent physiological studies indicate these costs may include oxidative stress, reduced immunocompetence, and perhaps neuronal tissue damage. Using an optimality approach, we suggest that trade-offs between the benefits of energy conservation and the physiological costs of metabolic depression can explain both why hibernators periodically arouse from torpor and why they should use available energy to minimize the depth and duration of their torpor bouts. On the basis of these trade-offs, we derive a series of testable predictions concerning the relationship between energy availability and torpor expression. We conclude by reviewing the empirical support for these predictions and suggesting new avenues for research on the role of energy availability in mammalian hibernation.

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