Climatic effects on life-history in the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius

Findlay-Robinson, Rachel (2021) Climatic effects on life-history in the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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Effects of climate change on individual life-history have been documented in many species, and can affect individual fitness and population dynamics. However, population-level consequences of such effects are rarely considered in conservation plans. Here, I combine field studies and long-term data analysis to examine both direct and indirect effects of climate on life-history in a declining hibernator, the hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius. Rates of change in temperature across the preceding active and hibernation season were positively associated with the parturition timing, whilst rate of change of rainfall were negatively associated. Parturition timing is known to be negatively associated with fitness, and is influenced by body condition at emergence. These results suggest warmer winters and cooler springs negatively affect energy retention during hibernation leading to later parturition. Dormice may be able to mitigate such effects through hibernation site selection, as microclimatic conditions might differ from macroclimatic conditions. However, air temperature did not appear to influence hibernation nest site selection. Higher mean soil temperatures, low daily variation in relative humidity and low variation in relative shortwave radiation were positively associated with the probability of hibernation nest presence but were not associated with dormouse overwinter activity. High levels of pre-hibernation fattening could also mitigate the detrimental energetic effects of warmer winters. However, fruiting in seven key dormouse autumn food plants has advanced substantially, suggesting potential for a trophic mismatch between food availability and the post-weaning, pre-hibernation fattening period. The findings of this thesis demonstrate multiple routes by which climate can affect the life-history of small hibernating mammals, and provide evidence of detrimental effects of climate change on the UK’s hazel dormouse populations. Integration of life-history research into conservation programmes has the potential to improve future conservation success both for hazel dormice and other species worldwide.

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Thesis (PhD)
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24 Feb 2022 09:55
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21 Sep 2023 03:36