Sex-specific effects of food supplements on hibernation in free-ranging Common hamsters

Scientific Reports


Hibernation is characterized by reduced metabolism and body temperature during torpor bouts. Energy reserves available during winter play an important role for hibernation and some species respond to high energy reserves with reduced torpor expression. Common hamsters are food-storing hibernators and females hibernate for shorter periods than males, probably related to larger food stores. In this study, we provided free-ranging common hamsters with sunflower seeds shortly before winter and recorded body temperature using subcutaneously implanted data loggers. We compared hibernation patterns and body mass changes between individuals with and without food supplements and analysed reproductive onset in females. Supplemented males delayed hibernation onset, hibernated for much shorter periods, and emerged in spring with higher body mass than unsupplemented ones. Additional food did not affect hibernation performance in females, but supplemented females emerged earlier and preceded those without food supplements in reproductive onset. Thus, males and females differently responded to food supplementation: access to energy-rich food stores enabled males to shorten the hibernation period and emerge in better body condition, probably enhancing mating opportunities and reproductive success. Females did not alter hibernation patterns, but started to reproduce earlier than unsupplemented individuals, enabling reproductive benefits by an extended breeding period.

Siutz, C., Valent, M., Ammann, V., Niebauer, A., & Millesi, E. (2018). Sex-specific effects of food supplementation on hibernation performance and reproductive timing in free-ranging common hamsters. Scientific Reports, 8, 13082 (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-31520-4