The physiology, ecology and conservation of migratory bats

How do migratory bats find their way when traveling over thousands of kilometers each year? What specific threats are they exposed to when moving across anthropogenic landscapes?


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 km each year when traveling between their summer ranges in Northeastern Europe to 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.


This long-term field project was initiated in 2011 as part of a 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 behavioral ecology of migratory bats centers around the navigational abilities of migratory bats and the social behavior during migration. Further, we ask how anthropogenic factors such as light pollution, wind turbines and landuse 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.

Fig. 1: Pipistrellus nathusii resting after having arrived in Latvia during migratio ((c) Christian Giese)

Leibniz IZW team: 

PD Dr. Christian Voigt (Dept EvolEcol)

Dr. Gábor Czirják (Dept Wildl Dis)

Prof. Dr. Jörns Fickel (Dept EvolGen)

Prof. Dr. Stephanie Kramer-Schadt (Dept EcolDyn)


Consortium partners:

Prof Dr Gunārs Pētersons (Agricultural University of Latvia, Jelgava, Latvia)

Dr Oskars Keišs (University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia)

Prof. Dr. Anders Hedenström (University of Lund, Sweden)

Dr. Richard Holland and Oliver Lindecke (University of Bangor, UK)

Lindecke, O., ..., Voigt, C.C. (2019): experienced migratory bats integrate the sun's position at dusk for navigation at night. Current Biology 29(8): 1369-1373.


Troxell, S.A., .., Voigt, C.C. (2019): Nathusius' bats optimize long-distance migration by flying at maximum range speed. Journal of Experimental Biology 222(4): heb176396.

Lindecke, I., ..., Voigt, C.C. (2019): Orientation and flight behaviour identify the Soprano pipistrelle as a migratory species at the Baltic Sea Coast. Journal of Zoology 308: 56-65.


Costantini, D., Lindecke, I., ..., Voigt, C.C. (2018): Migratory flight imposes oxidative stress in bats. Current Zoology 65(2): 147-153.