Light, flight and the night: effect of ambient light and moon phase on flight activity of pteropodid bats

Abstract

Fruit-feeding pteropodid bats roost under varying light conditions. Some roost in trees with high exposure to daylight (> 1000 lx), while others roost in dark caves (< 0.1 lx). To understand the effect of ambient light intensity and moon phase on flight activity, we examined flight times across five lunar cycles in three pteropodid species whose roosts differ in daylight exposure. We found significant interspecific differences in flight emergence and termination times. All species initiated flights after sunset but Rousettus leschenaultii, which typically roosts in caves, delayed emergence (40 ± 11 min) more than the two tree-roosting species Pteropus giganteus (16 ± 6 min) and Cynopterus sphinx (19 ± 7 min). R. leschenaultii terminated flights earlier (30 ± 7 min before sunrise) than P. giganteus (11 ± 11 min) and C. sphinx (16 ± 10 min). All individuals from P. giganteus and C. sphinx roosts emerged within less than an hour, while emergence times were more spread out in the R. leschenaultii colony. Peak emergence times differed across moon phases in the cave-roosting R. leschenaultii but not in the other species. Flight activity in R. leschenaultii is restricted to comparatively lower light levels than the tree-roosting species. The observed interspecific differences suggest that bat species, sharing same landscapes may respond differently to light pollution.

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Acknowledgements

We thank two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We thank Prof. Marimuthu and Prof. Muthuchezhian, Madurai Kamaraj University for access to the roost in the Center for Biodiversity and Forestry Studies. We also acknowledge landowner Perumalsamy and villagers of Adaikkampatti, Vadapazhanji and Venkatachalapuram in Madurai and Theni for their hospitality during the study. We thank IISERTVM, the Swedish Research Council (2012-2212) and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India for funding.

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Murugavel, B., Kelber, A. & Somanathan, H. Light, flight and the night: effect of ambient light and moon phase on flight activity of pteropodid bats. J Comp Physiol A 207, 59–68 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-020-01461-3

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Keywords

  • Pteropodids
  • Ambient light
  • Twilight zones
  • Moon phases
  • Flight activity