Physiological ecology of cheirogaleid primates: variation in hibernation and torpor
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Torpor (i.e. the reduction of body temperature and metabolic rate for less than 24 h) and hibernation (i.e. torpor phases longer than 24 h) are among the most extreme adaptations to seasonality in primate habitats. Although widespread among mammals, this form of extreme thermoregulation is rare among primates and is reported only for species of the cheirogaleid family. Understanding their physiological ecology is crucial for many aspects of cheirogaleid socioecology like their social organization and their mating systems. This paper first provides an overview of published information on hibernation and torpor and identifies a patchy distribution for the occurrence of hibernation across genera, species and populations. Based on a review of published studies from the wild and from captivity, we then propose a possible explanation for variation in hibernation behavior among Microcebus species and populations. Accordingly, the amount of energy that can be saved during torpor early in the lean dry season, which is determined by the minimum ambient temperature will be decisive. Only where temperatures are low, early dry season torpor bouts will be long enough to save enough energy to build up fat reserves for longer bouts of hibernation. Finally, we summarize information on the causal factors for the occurrence of hibernation by analyzing sex differences within populations. Further physiological studies on other cheirogaleid species are needed to identify the phylogenetic origin of hibernation in primates.