Seasonal loss and resumption of circadian rhythms in hibernating arctic ground squirrels

Cory T. Williams, Maya Radonich, Brian M. Barnes, C. Loren Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Circadian clocks are near universal among organisms and play a key role in coordinating physiological and metabolic functions to anticipate or coincide with predictable daily changes in the physical and social environment. However, whether circadian rhythms persist and are functionally important during hibernation in all mammals is currently unclear. We examined whether circadian rhythms of body temperature (Tb) persist during multi-day, steady-state torpor and investigated the association between timing of animal emergence, exposure to light, and resumption of activity and Tb rhythms in free-living and captive male arctic ground squirrels. High-resolution (0.02 °C) temperature loggers revealed that circadian rhythms of Tb were not present during deep torpor in free-living arctic ground squirrels. Significant circadian rhythms of Tb resumed, however, following the resumption of euthermia, but prior to emergence, though rhythms became much more robust coincident with aboveground emergence. Additionally, squirrels maintained in captivity under conditions of constant darkness spontaneously developed significant circadian rhythms of Tb and activity soon after ending torpor. Exposing animals to a 5-s pulse of light within a week when they ended torpor increased the strength of rhythms. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that circadian clock function is inhibited during hibernation in arctic ground squirrels, and we postulate that exposure to external stimuli, such as light in free-living animals, and meals or acute disturbance for captive squirrels, may enhance Tb rhythmicity by synchronizing loosely coupled circadian oscillators within the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)693-703
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017


  • Arrhythmicity
  • Circadian clock
  • Hibernation
  • Torpor
  • Urocitellus parryii

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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