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Keywords:

  • bone cross-section;
  • bone density;
  • mechanical shape;
  • hibernation;
  • woodchucks

Abstract

Long periods of inactivity in most mammals result in bone loss that may not be completely recoverable during an individual's lifetime regardless of future activity. Prolonged inactivity is normal during hibernation, but it remains uncertain whether hibernating mammals suffer decreased bone properties after hibernation that affects survival. We test the hypothesis that relative cortical area (CA), apparent density, bone area fraction (B.Ar/T.Ar), and moments of inertia do not differ between museum samples of woodchucks (Marmota monax) collected before and after hibernation. We used peripheral quantitative computed tomography to examine bone geometry in the femur, tibia, humerus and mandible. We see little evidence for changes in bone measures with hibernation supporting our hypothesis. In fact, when including subadults to increase sample sizes and controlling age statistically, we observed a trend toward increased bone properties following hibernation. Diaphyses were significantly denser in the humerus, femur, and tibia after hibernation, and relative mandibular cortical area was significantly larger. Similarly, relative mechanical indices were significantly larger in the mandible after hibernation. Although tests of individual measures in many cases were not significantly different prehibernation versus posthibernation, the overall pattern of average increase posthibernation was significant for relative CA and densities as well as relative diaphyseal mechanical indices when examining outcomes collectively. The exception to this pattern was a reduction in metaphyseal trabecular bone following hibernation. Individually, only humeral B.Ar/T.Ar was significantly reduced, but the average reduction in trabecular measures post-hibernation was significant when examined collectively. Because the sample included subadults, we suggest that much of the increased bone relates to their continued growth during hibernation. Our results indicate that woodchucks are more similar to large hibernators that maintain skeletal integrity compared to smaller-bodied hibernators that may lose bone. This result suggests a potential size-related trend in bone response to hibernation across mammals. J. Morphol., 2012. © 2012Wiley Periodicals, Inc.