We present a microgeographic analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in Bechstein’s bats using three sources of control region sequence variability, including a novel mtDNA microsatellite, to assess individual relatedness both within and among 10 maternity colonies. Comparison of marker variability among 268 adult females revealed little genetic variability within each colony. However, most colonies were clearly distinguished by colony-specific mitochondrial haplotypes (total n = 28). Low intracolony variability and strong haplotype segregation among colonies, was reflected by an extraordinary high FST of 0.68, indicating a very low intercolony dispersal rate of approximately one female in five generations. Haplotype distribution among 18 solitary males showed that males frequently disperse between colony locations, indicating the absence of dispersal barriers. Bechstein’s bat maternity colonies are thus closed groups that comprise 20–40 females probably belonging to only one or, at most, two matrilines. The genetic population structure of Bechstein’s bats is in agreement with the hypothesis that females seek familiar and, at least, partially related cooperation partners for raising their young. Alternatively strong philopatry might reflect the importance of profound roost or habitat knowledge for successful reproduction in female Bechstein’s bats.
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