Understanding physiological limits and environmental optima is critical to developing protection strategies for endangered and threatened species. One theory to explain the decline in endangered Indiana bat Myotis sodalis populations involves increasing cave temperatures in winter hibernacula. Altered cave temperatures can raise metabolism and cause more arousals in torpid bats, both of which use more fat reserves. In addition, fluctuations in cave temperatures may cause additional arousals. Our objectives were to quantify the effect of temperature and fluctuations thereof on torpid metabolism and arousal frequency in this species. Female Indiana bats (n=36) were collected from caves just before hibernation, maintained in an environmental chamber that simulated hibernacula conditions, and had skin temperature recorded every 30 min throughout the winter. One environmental chamber containing bats (n=12) was sequentially set at 8°, 6°, and 4°C over the winter. The second chamber containing bats (n=12) experienced the same mean temperatures, but temperature fluctuated +-2°C on a regular basis. Torpor bouts were longest at 4°C and were not affected by temperature fluctuations. However, the temperature fluctuations appeared to cause longer arousals. Other bats (n=12) were individually placed in metabolic chambers to calculate oxygen consumption during torpor and during arousals. Torpid metabolism was affected by temperature; at 9°C, it was higher than at 7° or 5°C. Metabolism during arousals was not different among temperature treatments, but rates were almost 200 times higher than torpid metabolic rates. We calculated a winter energy budget and, from the energetic perspective, determined an optimum hibernation temperature (3°-6°C) for female Indiana bats. These findings suggest that hibernacula that provide these conditions deserve extra protection, although other factors in addition to energetics may play a role in temperature preferences.



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Physiological and Biochemical Zoology