Journal Article

The risk faced by the early bat: individual plasticity and mortality costs of the timing of spring departure after hibernation

Reusch, C., Scheuerlein, A., Grosche, L., Meier, F., Gampe, J., Dammhahn, M., van Schaik , J., Kerth, G.
Oikos, 2023:4, 1–10 (2023)
Open Access


Hibernation is a widespread adaptation in animals to seasonally changing environmental conditions. In the face of global anthropogenic change, information about plastic adjustments to environmental conditions and associated mortality costs are urgently needed to assess population persistence of hibernating species. Here, we used a five-year data set of 1047 RFID-tagged individuals from two bat species, Myotis nattereri and Myotis daubentonii that were automatically recorded each time they entered or left a hibernaculum. Because the two species differ in foraging strategy and activity pattern during winter, we expected species–specific responses in the timing of hibernation relative to environmental conditions, as well as different mortality costs of early departure from the hibernaculum in spring. Applying mixed-effects modelling, we disentangled population-level and individual-level plasticity in the timing of departure. To estimate mortality costs of early departure, we used both a capture mark recapture analysis and a novel approach that takes into account individual exposure times to mortality outside the hibernaculum. We found that the timing of departure varied between species as well as among and within individuals, and was plastically adjusted to large-scale weather conditions as measured by the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) index. Individuals of M. nattereri, which can exploit milder temperatures for foraging during winter, tuned departure more closely to the NAO index than individuals of M. daubentonii, which do not hunt during winter. Both analytical approaches used to estimate mortality costs showed that early departing individuals were less likely to survive until the subsequent hibernation period than individuals that departed later. Overall, our study demonstrates that individuals of long-lived hibernating bat species have the potential to plastically adjust to changing climatic conditions, although the potential for adjustment differs between species.

Keywords: biology, climate, mortality
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.