Hibernation has been selected for increasing survival in harsh climatic environments. Seasonal variability in temperature may push the body temperatures of hibernating animals across boundaries of alternative states between euthermic temperature and torpor temperature, typical of either hibernation or summer dormancy.
Nowadays, wearable electronics present a promising avenue to assess the occurrence of criticality in physiological systems, such as body temperature fluctuating between attractors of activity and hibernation. For this purpose, we deployed temperature loggers on two hibernating edible dormice for an entire year and under Mediterranean climate conditions. Highly stochastic body temperatures with sudden switches over time allowed us to assess the reliability of statistical leading indicators to anticipate tipping points when approaching a critical transition.
Hibernation dynamics showed flickering, a phenomenon occurring when a system rapidly moves back and forth between two alternative attractors preceding the upcoming major regime shift. Flickering of body temperature increased when the system approached bifurcations, which were also anticipated by several metric- and model-based statistical indicators. Nevertheless, some indicators did not show a pattern in their response, which suggests that their performance varies with the dynamics of the biological system studied. Gradual changes in air temperature drove transient between states of hibernation and activity, and also drove hysteresis. For hibernating animals, hysteresis may increase resilience when ending hibernation earlier than the optimal time, which may occur in regions where temperatures are sharply rising, especially during winter.
Temporal changes in early indicators of critical transitions in hibernation dynamics may help to understand the effects of climate on evolutionary life histories and the plasticity of hibernating organisms to cope with shortened hibernation due to global warming.