A quantitative genetic analysis of hibernation emergence date in a wild population of Columbian ground squirrels

J. E. Lane, L. E. B. Kruuk, A. Charmantier, J. O. Murie, D. W. Coltman, M. Buoro, S. Raveh, F. S. Dobson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The life history schedules of wild organisms have long attracted scientific interest, and, in light of ongoing climate change, an understanding of their genetic and environmental underpinnings is increasingly becoming of applied concern. We used a multi-generation pedigree and detailed phenotypic records, spanning 18 years, to estimate the quantitative genetic influences on the timing of hibernation emergence in a wild population of Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus). Emergence date was significantly heritable [h(2) = 0.22 +/- 0.05 (in females) and 0.34 +/- 0.14 (in males)], and there was a positive genetic correlation (r(G) = 0.76 +/- 0.22) between male and female emergence dates. In adult females, the heritabilities of body mass at emergence and oestrous date were h(2) = 0.23 +/- 0.09 and h(2) = 0.18 +/- 0.12, respectively. The date of hibernation emergence has been hypothesized to have evolved so as to synchronize subsequent reproduction with upcoming peaks in vegetation abundance. In support of this hypothesis, although levels of phenotypic variance in emergence date were higher than oestrous date, there was a highly significant genetic correlation between the two (r(G) = 0.98 +/- 0.01). Hibernation is a prominent feature in the annual cycle of many small mammals, but our understanding of its influences lags behind that for phenological traits in many other taxa. Our results provide the first insight into its quantitative genetic influences and thus help contribute to a more general understanding of its evolutionary significance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1949-1959
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number9
Early online date17 Jun 2011
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2011


  • additive genetic variation
  • animal model
  • body mass
  • heritability
  • hiberation
  • mammal
  • oestrus
  • phenology
  • Urocitellus columbianus


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