Aerial-hawking bats adjust their use of space to the lunar cycle

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Abstract

Background: Animals change their habitat use in response to spatio-temporal fluctuation of resources. Some resources may vary periodically according to the moonphase. Yet it is poorly documented how animals, particularly nocturnal mammals, adjust their use of space in response to the moonphase. Here, we asked if an obligate nocturnal mammal, the aerial-hawking common noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula), adjusts its 3-dimensional flight behaviour and habitat use to the lunar period. Using miniaturized GPS loggers, we recorded 3-dimensional flight tracks of N. noctula and related these to a canopy height model derived from aerial laser scans to investigate whether bats adjust forest strata use to moonlight intensities. Results: Noctules frequently foraged above the canopy of coniferous forest at low moonlight intensities, but switched to using open grasslands and arable fields in nights with high moonlight intensities. During the few occasions when noctules used the forest during moonlit nights, they mostly restricted their use of space to flying below the canopy level. The median overall flight altitude of N. noctula equalled 13 ± 16 m but reached up to 71 m above ground (97.5% quantile). Conclusions: Our findings argue against general lunar phobic behaviour of aerial-hawking bats. We suggest that the preferred use of open fields around full moon may be a strategy of noctules to increase the success of hunting airborne insects at night. Specifically, the adjustment in use of space may allow bats to hunt for insects that emerge and disperse over open fields during bright moonlight.

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Roeleke, M., Teige, T., Hoffmeister, U., Klingler, F., & Voigt, C. C. (2018). Aerial-hawking bats adjust their use of space to the lunar cycle. Movement Ecology, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40462-018-0131-7

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