Geiser, F. (2013). Hibernation. Current Biology, 23(5), R188-R193.


Hibernation (multiday torpor) and daily torpor in heterothermic mammals and birds are characterized by pronounced temporal reductions in body temperature, energy expenditure, water loss, and other physiological functions and are the most effective means for energy conservation available to endotherms. Hibernators express multiday torpor predominately throughout winter, which substantially enhances winter survival. In contrast, daily heterotherms use daily torpor lasting for several hours during the rest phase. Although torpor is still widely considered to be a specific adaptation of cold-climate species, as we will see in this primer, it is used by many diverse species from all climate zones, including the tropics. While energy conservation during adverse conditions is an important function of torpor, it is also employed to permit energy-demanding processes such as reproduction and growth, especially when food supply is limited. Even migrating birds enter torpor to conserve energy for the next stage of migration. Although many heterothermic species will be challenged by anthropogenic influences such as habitat destruction, introduced species, novel pathogens and specifically global warming, not all are likely to be affected in the same way. In fact, as argued here, it is likely that opportunistic heterotherms may be better equipped to deal with these challenges than homeotherms because heterotherms have highly flexible energy requirements, can limit foraging and reduce the risk of predation, and often are also long-lived. In contrast, strongly seasonal hibernators, especially those restricted to mountain tops, and those that have to deal with new diseases that are difficult to combat at low body temperatures, are likely to be adversely affected.

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