Testing Predictions of Optimal Migration Theory in Migratory Bats
Optimal migration theory is a framework used to evaluate trade-offs associated with migratory strategies. Two strategies frequently considered by migration theory are time minimizing, whereby migration is completed as quickly as possible, and energy minimizing, whereby migration is completed as energetically efficiently as possible. Despite extensive literature dedicated to generating analytical predictions about these migratory strategies, identifying appropriate study systems to empirically test predictions is difficult. Theoretical predictions that compare migratory strategies are qualitative, and empirical tests require that both time-minimizers and energy-minimizers are present in the same population; spring migrating silver-haired (Lasionycteris noctivagans) and hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus) provide such a system. As both species mate in the fall, spring-migrating males are thought to be energy-minimizers while females benefit from early arrival to summering grounds, and are thought to be time-minimizers. Thermoregulatory expression also varies between species during spring migration, as female silver-haired bats and males of both species use torpor while female hoary bats, which implant embryos earlier, are thought to avoid torpor use which would delay pregnancy. Based on optimal migration theory, we predicted that female silver-haired bats and hoary bats would have increased fuel loads relative to males and the difference between fuel loads of male and female hoary bats would be greater than the difference between male and female silver-haired bats. We also predicted that females of both species would have a greater stopover foraging proclivity and/or assimilate nutrients at a greater rate than males. We then empirically tested our predictions using quantitative magnetic resonance to measure fuel load, δ13C isotope breath signature analysis to assess foraging, and 13C–labeled glycine to provide an indicator of nutrient assimilation rate. Optimal migration theory predictions of fuel load were supported, but field observations did not support the predicted refueling mechanisms, and alternatively suggested a reliance on increased fuel loads via carry-over effects. This research is the first to validate a migration theory prediction in a system of both time and energy minimizers and uses novel methodological approaches to uncover underlying mechanisms of migratory stopover use.