Evolution of the costs and benefits

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Evolution of the costs and benefits

Some animals hibernate to save energy in times of low energy intake, e. What are the costs and benefits of hibernation? Hibernation is defined as a torpor bout that it is maintained for periods longer than 24 hours and it is per definition only present in winter.

When a mammal goes into hibernation it will diminish its metabolism and allows its body temperature to drop to a few degrees above ambient temperatures. When the body becomes too cold, the animal will actively generate heat to stay alive Wilz and Heldmaier, Hibernation is not one single bout of torpor during winter, but the period of torpor is divided in small bouts of torpor of approximately 2 weeks by periodic arousals.

In these arousals the organism actively warms up to normothermic temperature by activation of the major heat-producing mechanisms. It will remain normothermic for a few hours, in which it will predominately sleep Daan et al.

Some species, for example bats, leave their hibernaculum hibernation place for some time during arousals.

Most of Evolution of the costs and benefits energy spent on hibernation is actually spent on the periodic arousals. During hibernation the MR of the animal is greatly reduced.

Oxygen consumption and breathing rate will also greatly diminish during hibernation. The energy saving is enormous: Because of this low energy demand most hibernators can survive for several months on fat reserves alone.

This is of enormous value for animals living in climates where the environmental conditions or temperature are too harsh to be active in, or in areas where food availability in winter is too low to sustain the organism.

Evolution of the costs and benefits

Without the energy saving aspects of hibernation, existence in these regions almost does not seem to be possible for those small mammal species. Reduced risk of predation When an animal goes into hibernation, most species will stay in their hibernaculums for 4 to 6 months.

In this time the animals will not be exposed to their regular predators, for example birds of prey Bieber and Ruf, For species were predation is one of the major causes of death, this advantage is huge. In an evolutionary perspective, the use of hibernation by a species forces its predators to switch diet or migrate, especially if this predator is a specialist.

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This imposes a problem on the predators, which could result in less overall predation or less predation right after hibernation. Disadvantages of hibernation for animals Hibernation is shown to impose costs on animals. These costs are both in the harmful physiological effects of hibernating, as well as in the costs of being unable to respond to stimuli.

Harmful physiological effects It has been determined that animals show poor memory retention after hibernating. When ground squirrels Spermophilus citellus are trained to complete a task involving spatial memory and an operant condition test, they perform poorly when tested again after hibernation compared to a control group which did not hibernate.

This shows that hibernation has a negative effect on memory retention Millesi et al.

Evolution of the costs and benefits

Immunocompetence is also reduced when hibernating, making the animal vulnerable to infections and parasites during and shortly after hibernating Luis and Hudson, It has also been shown that nutrient absorption in the digestive tract is slowed at low body temperatures Carey, and in reproductive females hibernation can result in slowed growth of young Racey, Daily torpor could also be responsible for accumulation of sleep debt Daan et al.

In males sperm cell production is inhibited during hibernation because of low body temperatures and low MR Racey, It is thought that the periodic arousals are used to restore the maintenance of cells, restore immunological processes to some degree and remove deleterious substances in the brain.

Since the harmful physiological effects of hibernation can still be measured, in spite of the fact that all hibernating species show arousals, those harmful effects must be quite large and pervasive. Decreased vigilance Hibernating animals have a decreased sensitivity to stimuli and therefore cannot quickly respond to threats.

Arousal from hibernation can take several minutes to several hours. This makes them more vulnerable for predation. Animals that store food are susceptible to hoard pilferage because of their decreased sensitivity to stimuli and inability to quickly respond to the intruder.

When the hoard is being stolen, the hibernator will almost certainly die. When a hibernator is dispelled from its hibernaculum, exposure and the inability to find a suitable new hibernaculum soon enough cause it to almost inevitably die. Unexpected adverse circumstances in the hibernaculum can have the same effect.

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