Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Sleeping through danger: The dormouse approach to survival

Date:
April 4, 2011
Source:
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna
Summary:
Amid the general rejoicing over the first signs of spring, spare a thought for the humble dormouse, which is about to embark on the most dangerous period of its life. This is the surprising finding of a long-term study of dormouse survival rates in five different countries in Europe.

Amid the general rejoicing over the first signs of spring, spare a thought for the humble dormouse, which is about to embark on the most dangerous period of its life. This is the surprising finding of a long-term study of dormouse survival rates in five different countries in Europe, coordinated by the group of Thomas Ruf at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. The results have recently been published online by the journal Ecography.

Related Articles


The dormouse in Alice in Wonderland was well advised to stay asleep -- especially as doing so did not prevent it from taking a full part in the tea-time conversation. Dormice in Europe spend about eight months of the year asleep and are extremely safe during this extended period, with almost all of them surviving the winter. This result comes from a study of dormouse survival rates in Austria, the Czech Republic, England, Germany and Italy.

Karin Lebl was a PhD student in Ruf's group. Together with collaboration partners in these countries, she examined how the survival of dormice living in the wild varies according to a number of factors, including the time of the year, various climatic factors and the animals' reproductive behaviour. In contrast to some species of marmot, for which hibernation is known to be associated with high mortality rates, the dormouse seems well able to accumulate enough fat reserves to survive even the harshest winter. Nevertheless, the work of Ruf's group showed that dormice in all five study countries are particularly vulnerable in early spring, immediately after they awake from hibernation. The animals clearly lose weight as a result of spending eight months without food, so afterwards they spend a large amount of time foraging, which presumably makes them more susceptible to predators: owls, weasels, pine martens and both wild and domestic cats.

The risk of having young

Unusually for small mammals, dormice do not breed every year. Instead, they "save" their reproductive efforts for years when there are good supplies of acorns or beech nuts. Such events occur irregularly and at different rates: in Germany, for example, seeding is considerable more frequent than in the study area in the northern Italian Alps. Lebl and Ruf found that mortality rates were significantly higher in years when the animals had young than in years when they did not. This may relate to the increased time the parents spend looking for food for their young or it may stem from the direct energy costs of reproduction. The upshot, though, is that dormice in "good" habitats in Germany, where oaks and beech trees frequently produce seeds, live on average for less than four years while dormice in the "poorer" habitats in northern Italy live on average for more than twice as long. Perhaps because they expect to die younger, German dormice tend to have larger litters than their longer-lived Italian cousins. Even so, dormice in Germany simply do not have time to produce the same number of young in their lifetimes as dormice in Italy.

So why do dormice in the Italian Alps live for so long? As Ruf says, "we can't really explain it. Despite what we may think, differences in the climate cannot account for our results -- and we have no evidence to suggest that climate change is having any effect on the animals' survival. Our working hypothesis is that the major factor influencing the dormouse population is the type and number of predators. Maybe there are fewer predators in Italy or perhaps the Italian dormice have particularly successful methods for avoiding being eaten."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Karin Lebl, Claudia Bieber, Peter Adamík, Joanna Fietz, Pat Morris, Andrea Pilastro, Thomas Ruf. Survival rates in a small hibernator, the edible dormouse: a comparison across Europe. Ecography, 2011; DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06691.x

Cite This Page:

University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna. "Sleeping through danger: The dormouse approach to survival." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110401121342.htm>.
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna. (2011, April 4). Sleeping through danger: The dormouse approach to survival. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110401121342.htm
University of Veterinary Medicine -- Vienna. "Sleeping through danger: The dormouse approach to survival." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110401121342.htm (accessed December 22, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, December 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Christmas Kissing Good for Health

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) — Scientists in Amsterdam say couples transfer tens of millions of microbes when they kiss, encouraging healthy exposure to bacteria. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Brain-Dwelling Tapeworm Reveals Genetic Secrets

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 22, 2014) — Cambridge scientists have unravelled the genetic code of a rare tapeworm that lived inside a patient's brain for at least four year. Researchers hope it will present new opportunities to diagnose and treat this invasive parasite. Matthew Stock reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Earthworms Provide Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) — Polish scientists isolate bacteria from earthworm intestines which they say may be used in antibiotics and cancer treatments. Suzannah Butcher reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Existing Chemical Compounds Could Revive Failing Antibiotics, Says Danish Scientist

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Dec. 21, 2014) — A team of scientists led by Danish chemist Jorn Christensen says they have isolated two chemical compounds within an existing antipsychotic medication that could be used to help a range of failing antibiotics work against killer bacterial infections, such as Tuberculosis. Jim Drury went to meet him. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins