Backpacks for bats: Monitoring bat behaviour

desert bat

Scientists at the University of Helsinki have conducted a study using miniature satellites, in the form of ‘backpacks’ attached to bats.

The study was designed to further the understanding of the way in which bats behave. The findings revealed that desert bats have to fly vast distances for a longer period of time due food shortages during the trying dry season.

The GPS, weight at just 1 gram, was used to reconstruct the movements of yellow-winged bats. These bats are not very common, as one of the two false vampire bat species in Africa.

Irene Conenna, from the University of Helsinki, is the lead author of the study. Conenna said:”GPS tags have seen up to now a limited use with insectivorous bats due to weight constraints and low success in data collection – we achieved great results in tracking such a light species.”

Ricardo Rocha is one of the co-authors of the paper. Rocha said:”Bats are some of the most successful desert mammals. Powered flight allows them to efficiently track scarce resources and their nocturnal lifestyle buffers them from the baking sun. However, they still struggle to find enough resources during the drier periods of the year.”

Near the world’s largest desert lake, in Sibiloi National Park, Northern Kenya, the researchers attached the GPS recording systems to 29 bats, separated between the rainy and dry seasons.

Data collected every 30 to 60 minutes every night, suggests that, during the dry periods, bats must compensate for the shortage of food by flying further and for longer periods of time to find food.

Irene Conenna said:”The responses exhibited by bats offer important insights into the responses of other taxonomic groups…These new miniaturised satellite-based tags now allow us to better understand how increased aridity affects bats foraging efficiency, leading us one step forward to understanding limits in aridity tolerance and impacts of climate change.”

Mar Cabeza is the senior author of the study, from University of Helsinki. Cabeza said:”Understanding how animals cope with seasonal changes is key to understand how they might react to the challenges in the horizon. New technological devices, such as miniaturised satellite-based loggers, go a long way to help us in this task.”

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