Rare catastrophic events drive population dynamics in a bat species with negligible senescence
Scientific Reports, 7:7370, 1–9 (2017)
Bats are remarkably long-lived with lifespans exceeding even those of same-sized birds. Despite a recent interest in the extraordinary longevity of bats very little is known about the shape of mortality over age, and how mortality rates are affected by the environment. Using a large set of individual-based data collected over 19 years in four free-ranging colonies of Bechsteins bats (Myotis bechsteinii), we found no increase in the rate of mortality and no decrease in fertility demonstrating no senescence until high ages. Our finding of negligible senescence is highly unusual for long-lived mammals, grouping Bechsteins bats with long-lived seabirds. The most important determinant of adult mortality was one particular winter season, which affected all ages and sizes equally. Apart from this winter, mortality risk did not differ between the winter and the summer season. Colony membership, a proxy for local environmental conditions, also had no effect. In addition to their implications for understanding the extra-ordinary longevity in bats, our results have strong implications for the conservation of bats, since rare catastrophic mortality events can only be detected in individual based long-term field studies. With many bat species globally threatened, such data are crucial for the successful implementation of conservation programs.