We're off then: The evolution of bat migration

Nov 20, 2009
Evening or vesper bat (Vespertillo murinus). Image: Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Radolfzell

(PhysOrg.com) -- Not just birds, but also a few species of bats face a long journey every year. Researchers at Princeton University in the U.S. and at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany studied the migratory behaviour of the largest extant family of bats, the so-called "Vespertilionidae" with the help of mathematical models. They discovered that the migration over short as well as long distances of various kinds of bats evolved independently within the family.

Most people know the term of "migrating bird" but "migrating bat" is not well established. However, some bat species migrate every year long or short distances. Whereas birds migrate to exploit seasonal food resources, the majority of bats migrate with the intention to find better conditions.

In Europe about 30 percent and in North America around 45 percent of migrate; the migration of bats however is a rather rare phenomenon. Only about three percent of the approximately 1,000 bat species migrate, of those less than 0.016 percent migrate further than 1,000 kilometres. The vast majority of bats living in temperate zones hibernate during the winter as a result of food shortage at this time.

Together, researchers of the University of Princeton in the U.S. and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology analyzed the genealogical tree of bats on the basis of their migratory behaviour. They are confining themselves to only the family of the "Vespertilionidae", also called the vespertilionid bats, which includes 316 species or about a third of all bat species. Of about 32 migrating bat species, 23 are part of this family. Eleven of those migrate over long distances greater than 1,000 kilometres. The remaining twelve species only fly short distances that vary between 100 to 1,000 kilometres.

The researchers discovered that the migratory behaviour over long and short distances evolved repeatedly and for the most part independently within the family of vespertilionid bats. Kamran Safi, one of the authors of the study says: "according to the model, the probability for the vespertilionid bats to loose or gain their residential habitat is the same as becoming a short or long distance migrant". The migratory behaviour of bats could be more complex than previously assumed. The evolution as well as the loss of the migratory behaviour is probably based on the fast evolutionary adaptation that is caused by climate change or changes in the social life of the bat.

The scientist of the Max Planck Institute says: "We assume that the evolution of migratory behaviour in the vespertilionid bats is an answer to sinking temperatures in their habitats, which made a temporary migration into warmer areas necessary". In contrast, for the migratory behaviour of birds it is generally hypothesized that tropical species expand to different areas. The evolution of migratory behaviour in bats enabled access to new resources and as a result, the density of the bats increased rapidly.

Most of the verspertilionidae were originally from the temperate zone and not from the tropics. In addition, researchers discovered that there is a correlation between migration and roost use as well as between migration and geographic distribution. Furthermore tree roosting bats are more likely to migrate than cave roosting species. A possible reason for this behaviour is the difficulty for bats to find suitable hibernating conditions in trees.
Original work:

More information: Isabelle-Anne Bisson, Kamran Safi, Richard A. Holland, Evidence for Repeated Independent Evolution of Migration in the Largest Family of . PLoS ONE 4(10): e7504. October 21st, 2009. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007504

Provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft (news : web)

Explore further: Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

Related Stories

Why wind turbines can mean death for bats

Aug 25, 2008

Power-generating wind turbines have long been recognized as a potentially life-threatening hazard for birds. But at most wind facilities, bats actually die in much greater numbers. Now, researchers reporting in Current Bi ...

Some bat numbers up in Britain

Dec 31, 2006

At least four species of bats in Britain have reversed decades of declining populations and have grown in numbers recently.

Bats recognize the individual voices of other bats

Jun 05, 2009

Bats can use the characteristics of other bats' voices to recognize each other, according to a study by researchers from the University of Tuebingen, Germany and the University of Applied Sciences in Konstanz, Germany. The ...

Animal magnetism provides a sense of direction

Feb 27, 2008

They may not be on most people’s list of most attractive species, but bats definitely have animal magnetism. Researchers from the Universities of Leeds and Princeton have discovered that bats use a magnetic substance in ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new 'transformer frog' in Ecuador

6 hours ago

It doesn't turn into Prince Charming, but a new species of frog discovered in Ecuador has earned the nickname "transformer frog" for its ability to change its skin from spiny to smooth in five minutes.

US gives threatened status to northern long-eared bat

9 hours ago

The federal government said Wednesday that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened, giving new protections to a species that has been nearly wiped out in some areas by the spread of a fungal ...

Mice sing like songbirds to woo mates

10 hours ago

Male mice sing surprisingly complex songs to seduce females, sort of like songbirds, according to a new Duke study appearing April 1 in the Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience.

A new crustacean species found in Galicia

10 hours ago

One reason that tourists are attracted to Galicia is for its food. The town of O Grove (Pontevedra) is well known for its Seafood Festival and the Spider Crab Festival. A group of researchers from the University ...

Ants in space find it tougher going than those on Earth

11 hours ago

(Phys.org)—The results of a study conducted to see how well ants carry out their search activities in space are in, and the team that sent them there has written and published the results in the journal ...

Rats found able to recognize pain in other rat faces

12 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working in Japan with affiliations to several institutions in that country, has found that lab rats are able to recognize pain in the faces of other rats and avoid them ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.