The cold shoulder: free-ranging snowshoe hares maintain a low cost of living in cold climates

Michael J. Sheriff, John Roger Speakman, L. Kuchel, S. Boutin, M. M. Humphries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


The hypothesis that cold air temperatures (T-a) constrain the metabolic diversity of high-latitude endotherms isbased on the observation among birds and mammals that mean field metabolic rate (FMR) increases, whereas the variability of FMR decreases, from the warm tropics to the cold poles. However, there is a paucity of FMR measurements from above 60 degrees latitude and below 0 degrees C. We measured the daily energy expenditure of a high-latitude population of free-ranging snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus Erxleben, 1777) in Yukon, Canada, in winter (Ta-mean = -16.4 degrees C) and in autumn (Ta-mean = 0.5 degrees C). Doubly labelled water measures of FMR were approximately 20% lower in winter than in autumn, and were a similar, low multiple of resting metabolic rate in both seasons (2.04 and 1.94, respectively). The mass-corrected FMR of snowshoe hares in winter was only half the value predicted by extrapolating the relationship between FMR and T-a > 0 to -16.4 degrees C. These results contribute to an emerging pattern of a reversal in the relationship between FMR and T-a in free-ranging mammals from negative above 0 degrees C to positive below 0 degrees C. We refer to the positive, low T-a portion of this relationship as the cold shoulder, and suggest that it may reflect the general necessity for free-ranging mammals to use behavioural and (or) physiological means to conserve energy during long winters when cold conditions coincide with resource scarcity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)956-964
Number of pages9
JournalCanadian Journal Of Zoology/Revue Canadien De Zoologie
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


  • doubly-labeled water
  • daily energy-expenditure
  • field metabolic-rates
  • physiological limits
  • Lepus-Americanus
  • seasonal changes
  • Alopex-lagopus
  • CO2 production
  • small mammals
  • body-size


Dive into the research topics of 'The cold shoulder: free-ranging snowshoe hares maintain a low cost of living in cold climates'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this