The Green Blog
Speaking of Groundhogs ...

With the arrival of Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil's recent prediction, I was reminded of the fact that groundhogs are one of many in the animal world that hibernate. Hibernation is a deep sleep that helps animals save energy and survive the winter without eating much. For most animals, finding enough food in winter can be difficult when the main source of food like insects or green plants is in short supply. Some animals solve this problem by hibernating.

During hibernation the animal's body temperature drops, and its heartbeat and breathing slow down so that it does not use much energy.

But scientists have found disturbing evidence pointing to the destructiveness of global warming. They believe that global warming affects hibernating animals, causing them to wake up earlier.  While this may seem a trivial concern, it is in fact a legitimate environmental problem. The shortened hibernation period could actually lead to significant declines in the populations of several species.

Several species, including marmots, chipmunks, and brown bears, have all been seen to either reduce their hibernation period or not hibernate at all. This can cause starvation and, possibly, increased numbers of some animals being eaten by predators.

Brown bears in the Spanish Cantabrian Mountains did not hibernate last year. In parts of the United States, chipmunks also skipped the hibernation period. In the case of the chipmunks, many of them died of starvation during the winter.

When an animal hibernates, their metabolism drops significantly. The animal's heart rate slows, and they require very little energy to live. When the animals awake from their winter slumber, their metabolism returns to normal.

But while their metabolism may be as active as it was before hibernation, food sources aren't as available as they were before. A marmot may wake up when temperatures get warmer, thinking it's spring, but plants will not have gotten the amount of sun they need to signal their spring period of growth. So until the plants grow, the marmots have no reliable food source, leading to starvation.

"Clearly, if such ecological changes are now being detected when the globe has warmed by an estimated average of only 1 degree F (0.6 C) over the past 100 years, then many more far-reaching effects on species and ecosystems will probably occur by 2100, when temperatures could increase as much as 11 F (6 C)," said Terry L. Root, a senior fellow with Stanford's Institute for International Studies (IIS).

We've talked extensively in the Pink Goes Green blog about the impact each of us has on the environment. As a reminder, here are some things you can do now to help our climate:

1. Travel light. Walk or bike instead of driving a car.
2. Teleconference instead of flying.
3. See the light. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs.
4. Recycle and use recycled products.
5. Inflate your tires.
6. Plant native trees.
7. Turn down the heat.
8. Buy renewable energy or ask you local utility for clean energy.
9. Act globally, eat locally.

Also, read Guinea pigs might have a secret defense against climate change

Sources:  The Nature Conservancy
                  Stanford University
                  Young People's Trust for the Environment