Seasonal metabolic adjustments and partitioning of evaporative water loss in Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bat, Epomophorus wahlbergi
Student: Ingrid A. Minnaar
Supervisor: Prof. A. E. McKechnie
Co-supervisors: Prof. N. C. Bennett, Prof. Christian T. Chimimba
Department: Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria
Degree: MSc: Zoology
The capacity to thermoregulate over a wide range of TaS is critical for maintaining homeostasis in endotherms. Several aspects of the thermoregulatory properties of bats remain poorly studied when compared to other mammals and birds. I examined two specific aspects of thermoregulation in bats: the seasonal variation of maximum metabolic heat production and the partitioning of total evaporative water loss (TEWL) into respiratory and cutaneous components. I measured basal metabolic rate (BMR) and summit metabolism (Msum) in captive and wild Wahlberg’s epauletted fruit bats, Epomophorus wahlbergi, during summer and winter. I measured metabolic rate using flow-through respirometry, and elicited Msum by exposing bats to low temperatures in a helox (21% O2, 79% He) atmosphere. BMR decreased by 22-25% during winter in both captive and wild bats, with the BMR of captive bats 9-13% lower than the wild individuals across seasons. Msum was approximately seasonally stable in both captive and wild bats, but Msum in captive individuals was 13-18% higher than their wild conspecifics during both seasons. The ratio between Msum and BMR (i.e., metabolic expansibility) was greater in winter than during summer for both captive and wild bats. One likely explanation for the greater resting thermogenic capacity of the bats in captive individuals concerns their reduced activity levels; compared to wild, free-ranging bats, heat produced as a by-product of activity probably contributed far less to thermoregulation, apparently leading to an increase in resting heat production capacity in captive individuals. 5
At the other end of the thermal scale, knowledge of heat tolerance and the evaporative cooling mechanisms employed by bats in hot weather remains rudimentary. At high air temperatures (Ta), endotherms avoid overheating by dissipating heat via evaporative water loss. TEWL may be partitioned into cutaneous evaporative water loss (CEWL) and respiratory evaporative water loss (REWL). I quantified CEWL and REWL in E. wahlbergi at Tas of 10-40 °C using a latex mask. When Ta exceeded normothermic Tb, bats drastically increased their TEWL, metabolic rate and Tb. The relative contribution of CEWL to TEWL was the greatest at moderate Tas where it represented up to 80% of TEWL. REWL was the major route of evaporative cooling at the highest Ta: at Ta = 40 ºC, REWL represented 45% of TEWL. To avoid hyperthermia, E. wahlbergi greatly increased metabolic rate at high TaS to avoid hyperthermia, further compounding the need to cool down. REWL is thought to be less efficient as than CEWL in offloading heat at high TaS as panting increases metabolic heat, whereas CEWL occurs passively. There is a need for further studies to be conducted on the thermoregulatory capabilities of bats in varying environmental conditions, both intra- and interspecifically.