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


Jeffrey E. Lane, Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionelle et Evolutive, Unité Mixte de Recherche 5175, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1919 Route de Mende, Montpellier Cedex 5, 34293, France. Tel.: +33 (0) 4 67 61 32 27; fax: +33 (0) 4 67 41 21 38; e-mail: u.columbianus@hotmail.com


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 [h2 = 0.22 ± 0.05 (in females) and 0.34 ± 0.14 (in males)], and there was a positive genetic correlation (rG = 0.76 ± 0.22) between male and female emergence dates. In adult females, the heritabilities of body mass at emergence and oestrous date were h2 = 0.23 ± 0.09 and h2 = 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 (rG = 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.