Nathusius' bats optimize long-distance migration by flying at maximum range speed [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Sara A. Troxell, Marc W. Holderied, Gunars Petersons, and Christian C. Voigt

Aerial migration is the fastest, yet most energetically demanding way of seasonal movement between habitats. However, for many taxa, and bats in particular, we lack a clear understanding of the energy requirements for migration. Here, we examined the energetic cost and flight speed of the long-distance migratory Nathusius’ bat (Pipistrellus nathusii). We measured flight metabolism in relation to airspeed in a wind tunnel, inferred the optimal traveling speed over long distances, i.e. maximum range speed, and compared this value with flight speed measured in wild conspecifics. Body mass and wing morphologies were similar in captive and wild bats, indicating that the body condition of captive bats was similar to that of migratory bats. Nine out of the 12 captive bats exhibited a U-shaped relationship between flight metabolic power and airspeed when flying in the wind tunnel. The flight metabolic rate across all airspeeds averaged 0.98±0.28 W, which corresponds well to established allometric relationships between flight metabolic rate and body mass for bats. During summer migration, P. nathusii traveled at an average speed of 6.9±0.7 m s–1, which was significantly higher than the minimum power speed (5.8±1.0 m s–1), yet within the range of expected maximum range speed inferred from wind tunnel experiments. This suggests that P. nathusii may migrate at an energetically optimal speed and that aerial refueling does not substantially lower migratory speed in P. nathusii.

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