Powering endurance: Fuel selection in migratory bats

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. In typical mammals, glycogen is the 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 than enable them to utilize lipids during endurance flight; like birds.


We are investigating this through a combination of classical physiological methods in addition to metabolomics and transcriptomics. Our collaborational partners in Dept EcolGen investigate the transcriptomics and the relative gene expression using NGS and quantitative PCR techniques respectively.


Beyond the Leibniz-IZW, we collaborate with the Technical University of Munich and the Helmholtz-Centre Munich, where our project partners analyse the substrate use in muscle mitochondria, and the metabolomics of animals. 

Fig. 1: Migrating Pipistrellus nathusii in Latvia ((c) Christian Giese) 

Leibniz Competitive Fund

Leibniz IZW project team: 

PD Dr. Christian C. Voigt (Dept EvolEcol)

Dr Camila Mazzoni (Dept EvolGen/BeGenDiv)

MSc Maximilian Driller (Dept EvolGen/BeGenDiv)

Prof. Dr. Jörns Fickel (Dept EvolGen)

Consortium partners: 

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

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

Prof Dr Martin Klingenspor (TU Munich, Germany)

Prof Dr Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin (Helmholtz Centre Munich, Germany)

Prof Anders Hedenström (Lund University, Sweden)

Selected publications: 

Voigt, C.C. Sörgel, J., et al. (2012): The insectivorous bat Pipistrellus nathusii uses a mixed fuel to power autumn migration. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 279(1743): 3772-3778.