Average longevity in free-living edible dormice (Glis glis) can reach 9 years, which is extremely high for a small rodent. This remarkable life span has been related to a peculiar life history strategy and the rarity of reproductive bouts in these seed eaters. Most females (96%) reproduce only once or twice in their lifetime, predominantly during years of mast seeding of, e.g., beech, but entire populations can skip reproduction in years of low seed availability. Surprisingly, in non-reproductive years, large fractions of populations apparently vanished and were never captured above ground. Therefore, we determined the duration of above-ground activity, and body temperature profiles in a subset of animals, of dormice under semi-natural conditions in outdoor enclosures. We found that non-reproductive dormice returned to dormancy in underground burrows throughout summer after active seasons as short as 10 months per year in dormancy. This exceeds dormancy duration of any other mammal under natural conditions. Summer dormancy was not caused by energy constraints, as it occurred in animals in good condition, fed ad libitum and without climatic stress. We suggest that almost year-round torpor has evolved as a strategy to escape birds of prey, the major predators of this arboreal mammal. This unique predator-avoidance strategy clearly helps in explaining the unusually high longevity of dormice.
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