Survival, Aging, and Life-History Tactics in Mammalian Hibernators

  • Thomas Ruf
  • Claudia Bieber
  • Christopher Turbill


Hibernation is commonly viewed as an adaptation that simply allows animals to survive periods of food shortage and climatically harsh conditions. Here, we review accumulating evidence suggesting that hibernation is part of a specific “slow-paced” mammalian life-history tactic that is associated with increased survival, retarded physiological aging, increased maximum longevity, low rates of fecundity, and long generation times. We argue that these traits can be explained if the primary function of hibernation—at least in many species—is the reduction of extrinsic mortality risks, namely predation, under environmental conditions that are not life-threatening, but do not favor reproduction. According to this view, hibernation is but one element of a life-history strategy that maximizes fitness by bet-hedging, i.e., reducing the risk of losing offspring by spreading lifetime reproductive effort over a number of temporally separated bouts. Further, increased survival and spreading of reproductive bouts should allow hibernators to produce young at times when climate and food resources are optimal for the rearing of offspring.


Ground Squirrel Maximum Lifespan Extrinsic Mortality Maximum Longevity Edible Dormouse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This study was supported by the city of Vienna, the province of Lower Austria, and the Austrian Science Fund (Austrian Science Fund [FWF], Project P20534-B17).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Ruf
    • 1
  • Claudia Bieber
    • 1
  • Christopher Turbill
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Integrative Biology and EvolutionUniversity of Veterinary MedicineViennaAustria
  2. 2.School of Science and HealthUniversity of Western SydneySydneyAustralia

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