As if the global warming-hurts-hedgehog hypothesis is testable by the scientific method.
The Daily Telegraph (UK) reports:
A new study of hedgehogs could provide the latest clue on climate change by finding out if the prickly creatures are coming out of hibernation earlier or later.
Usually hedgehogs, made famous by the Beatrix Potter Miss Tiggywinkle story, come out of their winter hibernation in March.
However as the climate changes, scientists want to know if the mammals are coming out earlier – or even later.
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) also want to know why populations are declining.
Recent research has show that populations of hedgehogs have dropped by at least a quarter in the past decade, with numbers declining over the long term from an estimated 30 million in the 1950s to 1.5 million in 1995.
Conservationists say the species has been hit by the loss of habitat in the countryside, such as hedgerows and grassland, more intensive agriculture, use of pesticides which reduce their food sources and more badgers.
In urban areas, tidier and more sterile gardens divided up with impassible fences and walls also pose a problem for the mammal.
The charities said research in the 1970s revealed a direct link between hibernation and climate, showing hedgehogs emerged up to three weeks earlier in the south west of England than Scotland, with inactivity relating to coldness and length of winter.
Typically the species hibernates between November and the end of March when food is scarce, in order to conserve energy.
Dr Pat Morris, who conducted the original research, said the new study could show if climate change is affecting hedgehogs.
“Age, sex and weather all appear to influence the timing of hedgehog hibernation.
“For example, young animals may remain fully active into December, no doubt seeking to develop sufficient fat reserves to ensure survival during subsequent hibernation.
“Also, adult females that have had late litters or may still be lactating will need to feed intensively before hibernating, causing them to be active for longer than adult males.
“However, mild weather can also delay hedgehogs entering into hibernation or elicit premature awakening, impacting on the creature’s fat reserves and breeding times and consequently affecting the long-term survival of the species.”