Hibernation is associated with increased survival and the evolution of slow life histories among mammals

Christopher Turbill, Claudia Bieber, Thomas Ruf


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.

  • Received January 28, 2011.
  • Accepted March 10, 2011.

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