© 2014 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
Torpor is thought to slow age-related processes and to sustain growth and fattening of young individuals. Energy allocation into these processes represents a challenge for juveniles, especially for those born late in the season. We tested the hypothesis that late-born juvenile garden dormice (Eliomys quercinus) fed ad libitum ('AL', n = 9) or intermittently fasted ('IF', n = 9) use short torpor bouts to enhance growth and fat accumulation to survive winter. IF juveniles displayed more frequent and longer torpor bouts, compared with AL individuals before hibernation. Torpor frequency correlated negatively with energy expenditure and water turnover. Hence, IF juveniles gained mass at the same rate, reached similar pre-hibernation fattening and displayed identical hibernating patterns and mass losses as AL animals. We found no group differences in relative telomere length (RTL), an indicator of ageing, during the period of highest summer mass gain, despite greater torpor use by IF juveniles. Percentage change in RTL was negatively associated with mean and total euthermic durations among all individuals during hibernation. We conclude that torpor use promotes fattening in late-born juvenile dormice prior to hibernation. Furthermore, we provided the first evidence for a functional link between time spent in euthermy and ageing processes over winter.