Genetic population structure of Natterer's bats explained by mating at swarming sites and philopatry


J. D. Altringham, Fax: +44 (0) 113 3432835; E-mail:


During autumn ‘swarming’, large numbers of temperate bats chase each other in and around underground sites. Swarming has been proposed to be a mating event, allowing interbreeding between bats from otherwise isolated summer colonies. We studied the population structure of the Natterer's bat (Myotis nattereri), a swarming species in northern England, by sampling bats at seven sites in two swarming areas and at 11 summer colonies. Analysis of molecular variance (amova) and genetic assignment analyses showed that the swarming areas (60 km apart) support significantly different populations. A negative correlation was found between the distance of a summer colony from a swarming area and the assignment of bats to that area. High gene diversity was found at all sites (HE = 0.79) suggesting high gene flow. This was supported by a low FST (0.017) among summer colonies and the absence of isolation by distance or substructure among colonies which visit one swarming area. The FST, although low, was significantly different from zero, which could be explained by a combination of female philopatry and male-mediated gene flow through mating at swarming sites with bats from other colonies. Modelling suggested that if effective size of the summer colonies (Ne) was low to moderate (10–30), all mating must occur at the swarming sites to account for the observed FST. If the Ne was higher (50), in addition to random mating during swarming, there may be nonrandom mating at swarming sites or some within-colony mating. Conservation of swarming sites that support potentially large populations is discussed.