Free-living ground squirrel species are sexually dimorphic in hibernation phenology. The underlying causes of these differences are not yet known. Androgens, testosterone (T) in particular, inhibit hibernation. To determine the influence of endogenous androgens on annual timing of hibernation we first measured circulating levels of T and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), an adrenal androgen implicated in non-mating season aggression in other species, in free-living male arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii, AGS). We also manipulated endogenous androgen levels by surgical castration, and consequently compared body temperature records from intact (n = 24) and castrated (n = 9) males to elucidate the influence of endogenous androgens on annual body temperature cycles. The highest T levels (0.53 ± 0.10 ng/mL) were in reproductively mature male AGS in spring; whereas, both immature males in spring and all males in late summer had T levels an order of magnitude lower (0.07 ± 0.01 and 0.06 ± 0.00 ng/mL, respectively). DHEA levels were higher in males during the late summer compared to reproductively mature males in spring (120.6 ± 18.9 and 35.9 ± 2.3 pg/mL, respectively). Eliminating gonadal androgens via castration resulted in males delaying euthermy by extending heterothermy significantly in spring (Apr 22 ± 2.9) than reproductive males (Mar 28 ± 3.9) but did not change the timing of hibernation onset (castrate: Oct 12 ± 1.0 vs. intact: Oct 3 ± 3.1). We conclude that while androgens play a significant role in spring hibernation phenology of males, their role in fall hibernation onset is unclear.
- Arctic ground squirrel
- Hibernation phenology
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Behavioral Neuroscience