Variation in size at birth and post-natal growth in the insectivorous bat Pipistrellus subflavus (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae)


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Journal of Zoology

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We describe the size and developmental state at birth, examine factors which influence intra- and inter-year variation in post-natal growth, and derive age-predictive equations and logistic growth parameters for the eastern pipistrelle bat, Pipistrellus subflavus. Ambient and roost temperature and insect abundance were lowest, and precipitation highest, before and during the post-natal growth period in 1982, as compared to 1981. We found no sex differences in the size of pups at birth or in post-natal growth rates in a given year; however, body mass and length of forearm of neonates differed significantly between years, being smaller in 1982 than in 1981. During the first two weeks of post-natal growth in both years, the body mass and length of forearm of pups increased linearly at mean rates of 0.15−1 and 1.12−1, respectively. Post-natal growth rates for length of forearm and body mass were the same during the early linear phase of growth, but the intercept for body mass was less and growth trajectories were more variable in 1982. Length of forearm was the least variable and thus most reliable character for estimating age of P. subflavus pups during the first 14 days of post-natal growth. When length of forearm was used in combination with mean changes in the length of the fourth metacarpal-phalangeal epiphyseal gap, we derived reliable age-estimation equations ranging from 1 to 45 days. Litter size averaged 1.96 and 1.93 at birth, but this was reduced to one by the time pups became volant. At birth, litter mass represented 44, and 54% of the post-partum mass of females in 1981 and 1982, respectively. This maternal effort during pregnancy is among the highest reported for bats. At weaning, the body mass of pups approached 80% of adult post-partum body mass, and the length of forearm exceeded 90% of adult female size. Our results suggest that size at birth and post-natal growth are influenced by ambient and roost temperature, rainfall, and the quantity of insects available to pregnant and lactating females. Thus, energetic constraints on both mothers and pups can lead to inter-year and inter-individual differences in maternal effort and post-natal growth of pups.

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