Physiology, ecology and conservation of migratory bats

In this project the researchers investigate how migratory bats find their way when traveling over thousands of kilometres each year and which specific threats they are exposed to when moving across anthropogenically shaped landscapes.

Project details
Duration: since 05/2011
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Evolutionary Ecology, Dept Evolutionary GeneticsDept Wildlife Diseases, Dept Ecological Dynamics
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Christian Voigt (Dept Evolutionary Ecology)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Shannon Currie (Dept Evolutionary Ecology), Gábor Czirják (Dept Wildlife Diseases), Jörns Fickel (Dept Evolutionary Genetics), Stephanie Kramer-Schadt (Dept Ecological Dynamics)
Consortium Partner(s): Gunārs Pētersons (Agricultural University of Latvia, Lettland), Oskars Keiss (University of Latvia, Lettland), Anders Hedenström (University of Lund, Schweden), Richard Holland, Oliver Lindecke (University of Bangor, Vereinigtes Königreich), Antje Seebens-Hoyer (NABU Mecklenburg-Vorpommern)
Current Funding Organisation: Various funding agencies, including the German Research Foundation, Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (in cooperation with NABU Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation)
Research Foci: Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Understanding wildlife health and disturbed homeostasis
Understanding the environmental context
Improving population viability


Migratory animals are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic environmental changes because they depend on multiple habitats as stepping stones during their annual journeys. The effective implementation of conservation measures that could benefit migratory species suffers from a poor understanding of the temporal and spatial patterns and underlying drivers of migration. This is particularly true for cryptic migrants such as bats. Indeed, bats are capable of performing long-distance migrations, covering several thousands of kilometres each year when traveling between their summer ranges in North-Eastern Europe to their wintering sites in Southwestern Europe.

We investigate the temporal and spatial patterns of migration in concert with the physiology and sensory ecology of animals. In our project, we address both basic and applied questions.

Field work in relation to habitat use, movement ecology, sociality of migratory bats and the assessment of human-bat conflicts is done by the Department Evolutionary Ecology), the geographical assignment of bats based on the analysis of stable isotopes and spatial statistics is done by the Department of Evolutionary Genetics, immunology of migratory bats by the Department of Wildlife Diseases, analysis of movement paths by the Department of Ecological Dynamics. NABU Mecklenburg-Vorpommern supports the project as an external cooperation partner.

This long-term field project was initiated in 2011 as part of collaboration between the Leibniz IZW and the Agricultural University of Jelgava and the University of Latvia in Riga (both in Latvia). Our primary field site is located at a major migratory corridor in Latvia where thousands of bats pass by each year. In addition, we conduct field work at various locations along the migratory route of bats in Europe.

Our physiological work elaborates on the metabolic constraints of bat migration and the immunology of migratory bats. Work on the behavioural ecology of migratory bats centres around the navigational abilities of migratory bats and the social behaviour during migration. Further, we ask how anthropogenic factors such as light pollution, wind turbines and land use changes impact migratory bats during their journey.

Our collaboration partners in Latvia contribute with field work. Our international scientific partners bring in their expertise in the area of animal navigation and flight.

Selected Publications

Lindecke O, Elksne A, Holland RA, Pētersons G, Voigt CC (2019): Experienced migratory bats integrate the sun’s position at dusk for navigation at night. CURR BIOL 29, 1369-1373.

Troxell SA, Holderied MW, Pētersons G, Voigt CC (2019): Nathusius' bats optimize long-distance migration by flying at maximum range speed. J EXP BIOL, 222, jeb176396.

Lindecke O, Elksne A, Holland RA, Pētersons G, Voigt CC (2019): Orientation and flight behaviour identify the Soprano pipistrelle as a migratory species at the Baltic Sea coast. J ZOOL, 308, 56-65.

Costantini D, Lindecke O, Pētersons G, Voigt CC (2018): Migratory flight imposes oxidative stress in bats. CURR ZOOL 65, 147-153.