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How Maize Monoculture and Increasing Winter Rainfall Have Brought the Hibernating European Hamster to the Verge of Extinction


How Maize Monoculture and Increasing Winter Rainfall Have Brought the Hibernating European Hamster to the Verge of Extinction

Mathilde L Tissier et al. Sci Rep.


Over the last decades, climate change and agricultural intensification have been identified as two major phenomena negatively affecting biodiversity. However, little is known about their effects on the life-history traits of hibernating species living in agro-ecosystems. The European hamster (Cricetus cricetus), once a common rodent on agricultural land, is now on the verge of extinction in France. Despite the implemented measures for its protection, populations are still in sharp decline but the reasons for it remain unclear. To investigate how environmental change has affected this hibernating rodent, we used a data set based on 1468 recordings of hamster body mass at emergence from hibernation from 1937 to 2014. We reveal the adverse effects of increasing winter rainfall and maize monoculture intensification on the body mass of wild hamsters. Given the links that exist between body mass, reproductive success and population dynamics in mammals, these results are of particular importance to understand the decline of this species. In view of the rates of maize monoculture intensification and the predicted increase in winter rainfall, it is of the utmost importance to improve land management in Western Europe to avoid the extinction of this species.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Change in body mass of wild hamsters (males and females) at the period of emergence from hibernation.
(a) Body mass (g) is represented per decade from 1937 onwards (N = 1468; <50s corresponds to the period from 1937 to 1949, while >2001 represents the period from 2001 to 2014). Body mass (g) is represented per year since 1992 (b) in males (N = 720) and (c) in females (N = 672). Geometric means are represented ± SEM and different letters highlight significant differences (Multifactorial ANOVA, p < 0.05). See methodology section 3. for statistical details.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Inter-annual change in temperature, rainfall and crop acreage in the Bas-Rhin (Northern Alsace, France) since 1937 (climate change) and 1989 (crop acreage).
(a) Average temperature (°C) and (b) total rainfall (mm) are shown according to the year and the period of the biological cycle of the common hamster (active period and hibernation). (c) Crop acreage (ha) of the main cereals (wheat and corn) and of (d) five other crops (rapeseed, barley, rye, sunflower and triticale) according to the year.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Factorial map of PCA analysis on agriculture variables.
Variables include production (per 100 Kg) and acreage (in ha) of seven crops (rye, corn, triticale, barley, sunflower, wheat and rapeseed). The component 1 axis opposes maize monoculture (<−0.5) to polycultural farming (>0.5), while the component 2 axis mainly opposes triticale and rye crops. See methodology section 3. for statistical details.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Path analysis diagrams showing the impact of climate and agriculture (PCA components) on the body mass of wild hamsters.
Model 1 represents multiple relationships between temperatures, rainfall, agricultural variables and body mass of (a) males and (b) females from 1992 to 2014, and model 2 (c) shows multiple relationships between climatic variables and body mass of males and females from 1937 to 2014. Arrows indicate significant directed links between variables. Unstandardized estimates (which can be positive or negative) are indicated along their respective paths. Significant paths are indicated by solid arrows while the dashed arrow represents a non-significant path remaining in the selected model (0.05 < p < 0.1). See methodology for statistical details.

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