23 July 2004

Hibernation is not an advanced skill invented by mammals, but a primitive pattern that stemmed from early reptiles, according to Professor Gordon Grigg.

“The conventional view about hibernation is that it is something that evolved in modern mammals as a specialisation to survive very harsh winters,” he said.

“But it’s become clear as a result of our work and other people working in Australia on marsupials that this an exaggerated example of patterns which are much older, inherited from the reptiles.”

The University of Queensland zoology professor will challenge conventional thinking about hibernation at the international Life in the Cold conference at Alaska next week.

About 200 academics will attend the conference held on a 55,000 tonne liner that will travel from Vancouver to Alaska in seven days.

“It’s a get together of all of the people who are interested in how mammals hibernate or go into short or long term torpors.”

As opening speaker, Professor Grigg will talk on an evolutionary framework for studies of hibernation and short-term torpor (suspended physical activity).

He is one of three Australian academics speaking at the conference from Monday to Saturday (July 26-31).

“I got interested in this because we discovered that echidnas hibernate and that has some implications or ideas of how warm bloodedness evolved – the evolution of endothermy.

“I’m very pleased to be the first speaker because the paper I’m giving is about the implication that discovery has on the framework within which I think hibernation research should be conducted.

“It’s the southern hemisphere biologists and their work on marsupials and monotremes which is spearheading the need to think about the evolution of hibernation and torpor in a different context.”

For more information contact Gordon Grigg (email: ggrigg@zen.uq.edu.au) or visit https://www.alaska.edu/litc/, or Miguel Holland at UQ Communications (phone: 3365 2619, email: m.holland@uq.edu.au)