Arctic Squirrels Have a Climate Change Problem


Climate change appears to be disrupting the hibernation of females in the Far North, scientists say, and that could affect mating season.

Male Arctic ground squirrels go through puberty every year. As if that wasn’t hard enough, now the females have a problem, too.

According to a paper published on Thursday in the journal Science, climate change appears to be making them emerge from hibernation earlier. That matters, because it could throw off the timing of the animals’ mating cycle.

Typically, males come out of hibernation before females to prepare for the spring mating season. They need time to reach sexual maturity again, every year, because their testosterone levels drop sharply during the winter.

Then, the females wake up. But scientists have found that as temperatures rise, female ground squirrels are emerging up to 10 days earlier than they used to. Researchers think it has to do with earlier thawing of the soil.

The hibernation pattern of the males, meanwhile, does not appear to be changing.

“This study suggests that males and females of the same species can respond differently to climate change,” said Helen E. Chmura, a research ecologist with the United States Forest Service who was lead author on the paper. “This could have important implications for reproduction.”

The squirrels’ troubles are part of a much larger crisis. Around the world, wildlife is struggling. On land, the main cause is humans taking over too much of the planet, erasing the biodiversity that was there before. In the oceans, the main problem is overfishing. Climate change

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