Survival rates in a small hibernator, the edible dormouse: a comparison across Europe

Ecography. 2011 Aug;34(4):683-692. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06691.x.


Understanding how local environmental factors lead to temporal variability of vital rates and to plasticity of life history tactics is one of the central questions in population ecology. We used long-term capture-recapture data from five populations of a small hibernating rodent, the edible dormouse Glis glis, collected over a large geographical range across Europe, to determine and analyze both seasonal patterns of local survival and their relation to reproductive activity. In all populations studied, survival was lowest in early summer, higher in late summer and highest during hibernation in winter. In reproductive years survival was always lower than in non-reproductive years, and females had higher survival rates than males. Very high survival rates during winter indicate that edible dormice rarely die from starvation due to insufficient energy reserves during the hibernation period. Increased mortality in early summer was most likely caused by high predation risk and unmet energy demands. Those effects have probably an even stronger impact in reproductive years, in which dormice were more active. Although these patterns could be found in all areas, there were also considerable differences in average survival rates, with resulting differences in mean lifetime reproductive success between populations. Our results suggest that edible dormice have adapted their life history strategies to maximize lifetime reproductive success depending on the area specific frequency of seeding events of trees producing energy-rich seeds.