Is lek breeding rare in bats?


  • Editor: Heike Lutermann


Cory A. Toth, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand



Bats (Mammalia: Chiroptera) are among the most successful mammals and likely display the widest range of mating systems within the Class. One mating system that is underrepresented in the Chiroptera is lek breeding, which is characterized by aggregations of sexually displaying males that are visited by receptive females who appraise male displays and actively choose mates, yet receive no direct benefits such as assistance in parenting. Leks are thought to form when males can defend neither resources nor females, making it more economical to establish small breeding territories and self-advertise through sexual displays. Lekking is rare in mammals, and it has been suggested that a lack in the mobility required by females to economically seek out aggregations of sexually displaying males may explain this rarity. Bats, like birds, do not suffer reduced mobility and yet out of over a thousand described species, only one has been confirmed to breed in leks. We examine the rarity of lekking in bats by providing an overview on the current state of knowledge of their mating systems and discuss the ecological and social determinants for the observed trends, contrasted with the prerequisites of lek-breeding behaviour. We use the breeding behaviour of New Zealand's lesser short-tailed bat Mystacina tuberculata, which is believed to be a lek breeder, as a case study for the examination of potential lekking behaviour in bats, and highlight the importance of such research for the development of effective conservation strategies.