Winter weather versus group thermoregulation: what determines survival in hibernating mammals?
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- Patil, V.P., Morrison, S.F., Karels, T.J. et al. Oecologia (2013) 173: 139. doi:10.1007/s00442-013-2612-0
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For socially hibernating mammals, the effectiveness of huddling as a means of energy conservation should increase with group size. However, group size has only been linked to increased survival in a few hibernating species, and the relative importance of social structure versus winter conditions during hibernation remains uncertain. We studied the influence of winter weather conditions, social group composition, age-structure, and other environmental factors and individual attributes on the overwinter survival of hoary marmots (Marmota caligata) in the Yukon Territory, Canada. Juvenile hoary marmot survival was negatively correlated with the mean winter (November to May) Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) index. Survival in older age-classes was negatively correlated with PDO lagged by 1 year. Social group size and structure were weakly correlated with survival in comparison to PDO. The relationship between winter PDO and survival was most likely due to the importance of snowpack as insulation during hibernation. The apparent response of hoary marmots to changing winter conditions contrasted sharply with those of other marmot species and other mammalian alpine herbivores. In conclusion, the severity of winter weather may constrain the effectiveness of group thermoregulation in socially hibernating mammals.