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Physiological And Biochemical Zoology


There is little information on the phenotypic flexibility of hibernation characteristics within species. To address this issue, we observed differences in hibernation characteristics of three free-ranging populations of woodchucks (Marmota monax) distributed along a latitudinal gradient from Maine to South Carolina. Data from free-ranging animals exhibited a direct relationship between latitude and length of the hibernation season. As expected, woodchucks in the northern latitudes hibernated longer than those in the southern latitudes. Also, the length of interbout arousals decreased with increase in latitude, whereas the length of torpor bouts and the number of arousals increased. Thus, we observed phenotypic plasticity in hibernation characteristics based primarily on latitudinal temperature differences in each population. Further analysis revealed a direct relationship between latitude and total time spent in torpor. Maine animals spent 68% more time in torpor than South Carolina animals. However, total time spent euthermic did not differ among the three populations. The "cost-benefit" hypothesis of hibernation may help to explain these results. It assumes that hibernators avoid the physiological stress of torpor by staying euthermic as much as possible. Woodchucks in each population maximized time spent euthermic, utilizing torpor only at the level needed to survive winter hibernation and to commence reproduction in the spring.


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