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J Comp Physiol B. 2011 Dec;181(8):1101-9. doi: 10.1007/s00360-011-0593-z. Epub 2011 Jun 21.

Data logging of body temperatures provides precise information on phenology of reproductive events in a free-living Arctic hibernator.

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Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA.


Precise measures of phenology are critical to understanding how animals organize their annual cycles and how individuals and populations respond to climate-induced changes in physical and ecological stressors. We show that patterns of core body temperature (T (b)) can be used to precisely determine the timing of key seasonal events including hibernation, mating and parturition, and immergence and emergence from the hibernacula in free-living arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii). Using temperature loggers that recorded T (b) every 20 min for up to 18 months, we monitored core T (b) from three females that subsequently gave birth in captivity and from 66 female and 57 male ground squirrels free-living in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range Alaska. In addition, dates of emergence from hibernation were visually confirmed for four free-living male squirrels. Average T (b) in captive females decreased by 0.5-1.0°C during gestation and abruptly increased by 1-1.5°C on the day of parturition. In free-living females, similar shifts in T (b) were observed in 78% (n = 9) of yearlings and 94% (n = 31) of adults; females without the shift are assumed not to have given birth. Three of four ground squirrels for which dates of emergence from hibernation were visually confirmed did not exhibit obvious diurnal rhythms in T (b) until they first emerged onto the surface when T (b) patterns became diurnal. In free-living males undergoing reproductive maturation, this pre-emergence euthermic interval averaged 20.4 days (n = 56). T (b)-loggers represent a cost-effective and logistically feasible method to precisely investigate the phenology of reproduction and hibernation in ground squirrels.

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