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Where do dormice hibernate?

Despite having its name derived from the French word dormir meaning ‘to sleep’, it is not known exactly where our hazel dormouse hibernates.

The problem

One of the most notable characteristics of the hazel dormouse in temperate zones is the fact that they hibernate through the winter. In the UK, the dormouse hibernation normally starts in November and lasts until April or even May, depending on the weather. To get through the hibernation period, they forage to build up fat reserves in their bodies during the summer and autumn while they are active. However, it is thought that a considerable part of the population does not survive the winter months.

When it comes to conservation of the species, the problem is that nobody actually knows where they hibernate, if they have preferences as to where build a safe nest and whether there is more we can do in terms of habitat management to improve the chances of survival of this iconic species.

The solution

Hibernation nests can be notoriously difficult to find so we will be busy over the next couple of winters trying to find an easier approach to locating hibernation nests (which could be of great benefit to ecologists and habitat managers) and at the same time trying to identify potential habitat preferences that make a specific site ideal for hibernation in different habitats. In order to do this we will be using a range of techniques including telemetry, microclimate models, systematic searches and even bring in the help of specially trained search dogs. The results of this project will help to fill a gap in the knowledge of dormouse ecology, provide useful information for habitat management practices and conservation of the species.

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