Migratory stopover in the long-distance migrant silver-haired bat,Lasionycteris noctivagans

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Abstract

1.

Some bat species make long-distance latitudinal migrations between summer and winter grounds, but because of their elusive nature, few aspects of their biology are well understood. The need for migratory stopover sites to rest and refuel, such as used by birds, has been repeatedly suggested, but not previously tested empirically in bats.

2.

We studied migrating silver-haired bats (Lasionycteris noctivagans) at Long Point, ON, Canada. We used digital radio-transmitters to track 30 bats using an array of five towers that effectively covered the entire region (c. 20 × 40 km). We measured stopover duration and departure direction, and documented movement patterns, foraging activity and roost sites. We measured body composition on arrival using quantitative magnetic resonance and simulated long-distance migration using observed body composition to predict migration range and rate.

3.

Migration occurred in two waves (late August and mid-September). Most bats stayed 1–2 days, although two remained >2 weeks. One third of the bats foraged while at the site, many foraging opportunistically on nights when rain precluded continued migration. Bats roosted in a variety of tree species and manmade structures in natural and developed areas. Half of the bats departed across Lake Erie (minimum crossing distance c. 38 km) while half departed along the shoreline.

4.

Simulations predicted a migration rate of c. 250–275 km per day and suggest that all but one of the bats in our study carried sufficient fuel stores to reach the putative wintering area (estimated distance 1500 km) without further refuelling.

5.

Our results suggest that migrating bats stopover for sanctuary or short-term rest as opposed to extended rest and refuelling as in many songbirds. Daily torpor could reduce energy costs when not in flight, minimizing the need for extended stopovers and allowing bats to potentially complete their migration at a fraction of the time and energy cost of similar sized birds.

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