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Physiological and Behavioral Adaptations in Bats Living at High Latitudes

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Physiological and Behavioral Adaptations in Bats Living at High Latitudes

Justin G Boyles et al. Physiol Behav.

Abstract

Widespread animals at the extremes of the species' distribution experience ecological constraints different than individuals in the core of the distribution. For example, small endotherms at very high latitudes face short summers with cool temperatures and a lack of true darkness. In particular, insectivorous bats at high latitudes may experience constraints because of their unique life history traits, and may have different energy requirements than bats at lower latitudes. To evaluate the extent of these differences, we estimated an energy budget and refueling rates for reproductively active female little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) roosting in buildings in eastern Alaska (~63°N). Physiological parameters (torpor use and metabolic rates) and daily energy expenditures (25.7±5.3kJd(-1)) were similar to, or slightly lower than, conspecifics at lower latitudes. Northern little brown bats foraged for less time than southerly conspecifics, but measurements of plasma β-hydroxybutyrate concentrations suggest that northern bats refuel at a rate considerably higher than those to the south. It appears that high refueling rates (and therefore foraging intensity) involve a dietary shift to orb-weaver spiders, which are abundant and likely offer higher energetic benefit than the small, flying insects consumed by individuals in other parts of the distribution. Environmental factors may limit species' distributions, but our results provide an example of a population at the limit of their geographic range that has compensated for environmental challenges by adopting unique behavioral strategies while the underlying physiology (including daily energy expenditure) remains similar to populations at the core of the species' range.

Keywords: Energy budgets; Foraging intensity; Heterothermy; Myotis; Plasma metabolites; Torpor; β-hydroxybutyrate.

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