Food store quality affects hibernation in common hamsters



Hibernating animals can adjust torpor expression according to available energy reserves. Besides the quantity, the quality of energy reserves could play an important role for overwintering strategies. Common hamsters are food-storing hibernators and show high individual variation in hibernation performance, which might be related to the quality of food hoards in the hibernacula. In this study, we tested the effects of food stores high in fat content, particularly polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), on hibernation patterns under laboratory conditions. Control animals received standard rodent pellets only, while in the other group pellets were supplemented with sunflower seeds. We recorded body temperature during winter using subcutaneously implanted data loggers, documented total food consumption during winter, and analysed PUFA proportions in white adipose tissue (WAT) before and after the winter period. About half of the individuals in both groups hibernated and torpor expression did not differ between these animals. Among the high-fat group, however, individuals with high sunflower seeds intake strongly reduced the time spent in deep torpor. PUFA proportions in WAT decreased during winter in both groups and this decline was positively related to the time an individual spent in deep torpor. Sunflower seeds intake dampened the PUFA decline resulting in higher PUFA levels in animals of the high-fat group after winter. In conclusion, our results showed that common hamsters adjusted torpor expression and food intake in relation to the total energy of food reserves, underlining the importance of food hoard quality on hibernation performance.


Siutz, C., Nemeth, M., Wagner, K-H., Quint, R., Ruf, T., & Millesi, E. (2017). Effects of food store quality on hibernation performance in common hamsters. PLOS ONE, 12(10), [e0185913]. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185913