Bats and birds must balance time and energy budgets during migration. Migrating bats face similar physiological challenges to birds, but nocturnality creates special challenges for bats, such as a conflict between travelling and refueling, which many birds avoid by feeding in daylight and flying at night. As endothermic animals, bats and birds alike must expend substantial amounts of energy to maintain high body temperatures. For migratory birds refueling at stopovers, remaining euthermic during inactive periods reduces the net refuelling rate, thereby prolonging stopover duration and delaying subsequent movement. We hypothesized that bats could mitigate similar ambient-temperature dependent costs by using a torpor-assisted migration strategy. We studied silver-haired bats Lasionycteris noctivagans during autumn migration using a combination of respirometry and temperature-sensitive radiotelemetry to estimate energy costs incurred under ambient temperature conditions, and the energy that bats saved by using torpor during daytime roosting periods. All bats, regardless of sex, age, or body condition used torpor at stopover and saved up to 91% of the energy they would have expended to remain euthermic. Furthermore, bats modulated use of torpor depending on ambient temperature. By adjusting the time spent torpid, bats achieved a rate of energy expenditure independent of the ambient temperature encountered at stopover. By lowering body temperature during inactive periods, fuel stores are spared, reducing the need for refuelling. Optimal migration models consider trade-offs between time and energy. Heterothermy provides a physiological strategy that allows bats to conserve energy without paying a time penalty as they migrate. Although uncommon, some avian lineages are known to use heterothermy, and current theoretical models of migration may not be appropriate for these groups. We propose that thermoregulatory strategies should be an important consideration of future migration studies of both bats and birds.
PUBLICATION AVAILABLE AT: http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0115724