Hibernation is a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression in endotherms. Hibernation is a seasonal heterothermy characterized by low body-temperature, slow breathing and heart-rate, and low metabolic rate. It most commonly occurs during winter months.
Although traditionally reserved for "deep" hibernators such as rodents, the term has been redefined to include animals such as bears and is now applied based on active metabolic suppression rather than any absolute decline in body temperature. Many experts believe that the processes of daily torpor and hibernation form a continuum and utilize similar mechanisms. The equivalent during the summer months is aestivation.
Hibernation functions to conserve energy when sufficient food is unavailable. To achieve this energy saving, an endothermic animal decreases its metabolic rate and thereby its body temperature. Hibernation may last days, weeks, or months - depending on the species, ambient temperature, time of year, and the individual's body-condition. Before entering hibernation, animals need to store enough energy to last through the duration of their dormant period, possibly as long as an entire winter. Larger species become hyperphagic, eating a large amount of food and storing the energy in fat deposits. In many small species, food caching replaces eating and becoming fat.
Some species of mammals hibernate while gestating young, which are born either while the mother hibernates or shortly afterwards. For example, female polar-bears go into hibernation during the cold winter months in order to give birth to their offspring. The pregnant mothers significantly increase their body mass prior to hibernation, and this increase is further reflected in the weight of the offspring. The fat accumulation enables them to provide a sufficiently warm and nurturing environment for their newborns. During hibernation, they subsequently lose 15–27% of their pre-hibernation weight by using their stored fats for energy.
True hibernation is restricted to endotherms; ectotherms, by definition, cannot hibernate because they cannot actively down-regulate their body temperature or their metabolic rate. Still, many ectothermic animals undergo periods of dormancy which are sometimes confused with hibernation. Some reptile species are said to brumate, but possible similarities between brumation and hibernation are not firmly established. Many insects, such as the wasp Polistes exclamans, exhibit periods of dormancy which have often been referred to as hibernation, despite their ectothermy. Botanists can use the term "seed hibernation" to refer to a form of seed dormancy.
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With the exception of some tropical species, seed germination is typically postponed for some period that is determined by characteristics of seeds and the environmental conditions they are exposed to [...]. [...] seeds may remain ungerminated and persist in the soil for many years. In this case, latency is induced by external environmental conditions, so these seeds are effectively in hibernation. [...] Because of seed hibernation and dormancy, many plant populations consist of adult individuals as well as Seed Banks that may be composed of seeds produced over a number of growing seasons.
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