Powering endurance: Fuel selection in migratory bats

The aim of this project is to investigate, why bats and birds seem to have similar adaptations in their metabolic physiology to migrate over long distances.

Project details
Duration: 06/2019 - 06/2021
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Evolutionary Ecology, Dept Evolutionary Genetics
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Shannon Currie (Dept Evolutionary Ecology)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Christian Voigt (Dept Evolutionary Ecology), Camila Mazzoni, Maximilian Driller, Jörns Fickel (all: Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Consortium Partner(s): Camila Mazoni (Berlin Center for Genomics in Biodiversity Research (BeGenDiv), Gunārs Pētersons (Agricultural University of Latvia; Latvia), Oskars Keiss (University of Latvia; Latvia), Martin Klingenspor (Technical University of Munich), Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin (Helmholtz-Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health), Anders Hedenström (Lund University; Schweden)
Current Funding Organisation: Leibniz Competition
Research Foci: Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations


How do migratory bats avoid physical exhaustion when travelling each year over thousands of kilometres between their breeding and wintering range? Are bats more like birds than like other terrestrial mammals, i.e. do they mostly use their fat stores as a fuel for migration? Or have they evolved a very specific solution to overcome this problem?

Migratory bats must perform long distance endurance flights to reach their wintering grounds, yet little is known about the physiological mechanisms that enable them to do so. All investigated mammals so far use glycogen as primary fuel source for endurance exercise, and once depleted individuals rapidly fatigue. Migratory birds overcome this by fuelling extended flights via lipid metabolism. Our aim is to understand whether convergent selection pressures have led to unique adaptations in migratory bats that enable them to utilize lipids during endurance flight; like birds. 

We are investigating this with a combination of classical physiological methods in addition to metabolomics and transcriptomics. Team members in Department of Evolutionary Genetics investigate the transcriptomics and the relative gene expression using Next Generation Sequencing and quantitative PCR techniques respectively.

Beyond the Leibniz-IZW, we collaborate with the Technical University of Munich and the Helmholtz-Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health, where our project partners analyse the substrate use in muscle mitochondria, as well as metabolomics.

Selected Publications

Voigt CC, Sörgel K, Šuba J, Keišs O, Pētersons G (2012): The insectivorous bat Pipistrellus nathusii uses a mixed-fuel strategy to power autumn migration. PROC ROY SOC B – BIOL SCI 279, 3772-3778.