, Volume 62, Issue 1, pp 97-108
Date: 18 Jul 2007

Social thermoregulation exerts more influence than microclimate on forest roost preferences by a cavity-dwelling bat

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Nest or roost temperature (T roost) is thought to impact reproductive fitness in many endotherms but few studies have directly tested the hypothesis that naturally occurring variability in nest or roost microclimate is large enough to affect reproductive success. We conducted a field experiment to test whether roost selection by cavity-dwelling, reproductive female big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) is more strongly influenced by roost microclimate or a physical characteristic of roosts that facilitates social thermoregulation (i.e., cavity volume). We quantified spatial variability in T roost within different-sized, unoccupied cavities and also recorded T roost in occupied vs unoccupied roost trees. We used equations relating energy use and ambient temperature for big brown bats to calculate values of daily energy expenditure from T roost data because energy is a currency that likely affects reproductive fitness. We found no difference between maximum and minimum T roost, spatial variability in T roost, or predicted energy expenditure in more-preferred vs less-preferred roosts. However, there was a significant difference between T roost and predicted energy expenditure when we compared occupied vs unoccupied roosts. The presence of bats increased T roost by as much as 7°C, and there was a significant positive correlation between the number of bats occupying a roost, maximum daily T roost, and energy savings. We calculate that, on average, a normothermic individual would save about 6.5 kJ/day (roughly 9% of the daily energy budget) by roosting in an occupied cavity relative to roosting alone and that savings may increase to 40 kJ/day (about 53% of the energy budget) for an individual roosting in a group of 45 bats. Our findings suggest that variability in microclimate among potential roost or nest sites may be less important to some cavity-dwelling endotherms than has been suggested in previous studies. Our results reinforce the importance of sociality and social thermoregulation to the roosting ecology of forest-living bats and socially roosting or nesting endotherms in general.

Communicated by G. Wilkinson