Bats

Physiological and behavioural adaptations by big brown bats hibernating in dry rock crevices

Klüg-Baerwald, B.J., Lausen, C.L., Burns, S.M. et al.


In a population of prairie-living bats, we show an uncommon hibernation pattern consisting of short, infrequent arousals, and estimate the majority of their energy stores are expended while torpid rather than euthermic.

Abstract

Winter energy stores are finite and factors influencing patterns of activity are important for overwintering energetics and survival. Hibernation patterns (e.g., torpor bout duration and arousal frequency) often depend on microclimate, with more stable hibernacula associated with greater energy savings than less stable hibernacula. We monitored hibernation patterns of individual big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus; Palisot de Beauvois, 1796) overwintering in rock-crevices that are smaller, drier, and less thermally stable than most known cave hibernacula. While such conditions would be predicted to increase arousal frequency in many hibernators, we did not find support for this. We found that bats were insensitive to changes in hibernacula microclimate (temperature and humidity) while torpid. We also found that the probability of arousal from torpor remained under circadian influence, likely because throughout the winter during arousals, bats commonly exit their hibernacula. We calculated that individuals spend most of their energy on maintaining a torpid body temperature a few degrees above the range of ambient temperatures during steady-state torpor, rather than during arousals as is typical of other small mammalian hibernators. Flight appears to be an important winter activity that may expedite the benefits of euthermic periods and allow for short, physiologically effective arousals. Overall, we found that big brown bats in rock crevices exhibit different hibernation patterns than conspecifics hibernating in buildings and caves.

Recommended citation

Klüg-Baerwald, B.J., Lausen, C.L., Burns, S.M. et al. (2024). Physiological and behavioural adaptations by big brown bats hibernating in dry rock crevices. Journal of Comparative Physiology B. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00360-024-01546-4

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