Food availability dictates the timing of parturition in insectivorous mouse-eared bats


  • Raphaël Arlettaz,

  • Philippe Christe,

  • Alain Lugon,

  • Nicolas Perrin,

  • Peter Vogel

R. Arlettaz, P. Christe, A. Lugon, N. Perrin and P. Vogel, Inst. of Ecology, Lausanne Univ., CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland (present address of RA: Dept of Conservation Biology, Inst. of Zoology, Univ. of Bern, Erlachstrasse 9a, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland []).


Which of these two confounding factors, weather or food availability – that largely correlate and interact – controls the timing of parturition in insectivorous bats? To answer this question, we took advantage of a predator-prey system that offers a unique opportunity to perform natural experiments. The phenology of reproduction of two sibling bat species that inhabit the same colonial roosts, but exploit different feeding niches, was investigated. Myotis myotis feeds mainly on carabid beetles, a food source available from the end of hibernation onwards, whereas bush crickets, the main prey of M. blythii, are not available early in the season due to their successive instars; cockchafers are actually the sole possible alternative prey for M. blythii at that time of the year, but they occur every third year only, independently of local weather conditions. By comparing the species responses to the presence/absence of cockchafers, we could test the hypothesis that food availability, rather than climate, influences the timing of bat parturition. Our data show that M. blythii gave birth, on average, 10 d later than M. myotis in years without cockchafers, whilst parturition (1) was synchronous during cockchafer years, and (2) did not show much among-year time variation in M. myotis. This suggests that food availability is the chief factor regulating the timing of parturition in mouse-eared bats.