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. 2011 Nov 22;278(1723):3355-63.
doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0190. Epub 2011 Mar 30.

Hibernation Is Associated With Increased Survival and the Evolution of Slow Life Histories Among Mammals

Free PMC article

Hibernation Is Associated With Increased Survival and the Evolution of Slow Life Histories Among Mammals

Christopher Turbill et al. Proc Biol Sci. .
Free PMC article


Survival probability is predicted to underlie the evolution of life histories along a slow-fast continuum. Hibernation allows a diverse range of small mammals to exhibit seasonal dormancy, which might increase survival and consequently be associated with relatively slow life histories. We used phylogenetically informed GLS models to test for an effect of hibernation on seasonal and annual survival, and on key attributes of life histories among mammals. Monthly survival was in most cases higher during hibernation compared with the active season, probably because inactivity minimizes predation. Hibernators also have approximately 15 per cent higher annual survival than similar sized non-hibernating species. As predicted, we found an effect of hibernation on the relationships between life history attributes and body mass: small hibernating mammals generally have longer maximum life spans (50% greater for a 50 g species), reproduce at slower rates, mature at older ages and have longer generation times compared with similar-sized non-hibernators. In accordance with evolutionary theories, however, hibernating species do not have longer life spans than non-hibernators with similar survival rates, nor do they have lower reproductive rates than non-hibernators with similar maximum life spans. Thus, our combined results suggest that (i) hibernation is associated with high rates of overwinter and annual survival, and (ii) an increase in survival in hibernating species is linked with the coevolution of traits indicative of relatively slow life histories.


Figure 1.
Figure 1.
(a) Monthly survival probability of adults estimated over the hibernation and active season for 19 hibernating mammal species (box plots show the median (line), 25% and 75% (box), and 10% and 90% (whiskers) percentiles), and (b) estimates of annual survival probability of adult mammals as a function of body mass and the PGLS model-predicted regression lines (see table 1 for regression results). Hibernation had a positive effect on annual survival probability (t = 2.12; p = 0.036). Filled blue circles and solid blue line, non-hibernators; filled blue triangles and dashed blue line, non-hibernators (bats); filled red circles solid line, hibernators; filled red triangles and dashed red line, hibernators (bats).
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
(a,b) Maximum life span, (c,d) annual reproductive output, (e,f) age at sexual maturity and (g,h) generation time of mammal species as a function of their body mass. Hibernation affected the relationship of each life-history attribute with body mass (see table 2 for regression results). Shown are the raw data and the PGLS model-predicted regression lines. Filled blue circles solid lines, non-hibernators; filled blue triangles dashed lines, non-hibernators (bats); filled red circles solid lines, hibernators; filled red triangles dashed lines, hibernators (bats); filled orange circles, bears.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Hibernation did not affect (p = 0.35) the relationships between (a) maximum lifespan and annual survival probability, and (b) annual reproductive output and maximum lifespan (t = 0.43, p = 0.67) among mammal species. Filled blue circles, non-hibernators; filled blue triangles, non-hibernators (bats); filled red circles, hibernators; filled red triangles, hibernators (bats).

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