Hibernation in the tropics: lessons from a primate

Abstract

The Malagasy primate Cheirogaleus medius hibernates in tree holes for 7 months, although ambient temperatures during hibernation rise above 30°C in their natural environment. In a field study we show that during hibernation the body temperature of most lemurs fluctuates between about 10°C and 30°C, closely tracking the diurnal fluctuations of ambient temperature passively. These lemurs do not interrupt hibernation by spontaneous arousals, previously thought to be obligatory for all mammalian hibernators. However, some lemurs hibernate in large trees, which provide better thermal insulation. Their body temperature fluctuates only little around 25°C, but they show regular arousals, as known from temperate and arctic hibernators. The results from this study demonstrate that maximum body temperature is a key factor necessitating the occurrence of arousals. Furthermore, we show that hibernation is not necessarily coupled to low body temperature and, therefore, low body temperature should no longer be included in the definition of hibernation.

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Abbreviations

T a :

Ambient temperature

T b :

Body temperature

T h :

Tree hole temperature

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the Commission Tripartite of the Malagasy Government, the Laboratoire de Primatologie et des Vertébrés de l‘Université d’Antananarivo, the Parc Botanique et Zoologique de Tsimbazaza, the Ministère pour la Production Animale and the Département des Eaux et Forêts for permits to work in Madagascar. We also thank the Centre de Formation Professionnelle Forestière de Morondava for their hospitality and permission to work on their concession. B. Rakotosamimanana, R. Rasoloarison, L. Razafimanantsoa, J. Fietz and J. Schmid supported the field project in numerous ways. We thank the German Primate Centre (DPZ) and P.M. Kappeler for the opportunity to work at the field station. Financial aid from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft is gratefully acknowledged. All experiments comply with the current laws of the country where they were performed.

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Correspondence to Kathrin H. Dausmann.

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Communicated by L.C.-H. Wang

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Dausmann, K.H., Glos, J., Ganzhorn, J.U. et al. Hibernation in the tropics: lessons from a primate. J Comp Physiol B 175, 147–155 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-004-0470-0

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Keywords

  • Hibernation
  • Tropics
  • Body temperature
  • Periodic arousals
  • Cheirogaleus medius