A species of vesper bat known as Kuhl's pipistrelle has expanded its range across Europe by as much as 400 percent within the last 40 years. A new study suggests climate change has likely opened new corridors for the bats.
"According to our work, the Kuhl's pipistrelle is a 'winner' in the context of climate change," Leonardo Ancillotto, lead author from the University of Naples Federico II in Italy, said in a news release. "Given its high ecological flexibility, it might be strong competition to other bats in the regions that it newly occupies, and have serious consequences on bat assemblages."
Pipistrelles are very adaptable bats that thrive in a variety of habitats. However, this study is the first to record such a large-scale expansion on a continental scale, researchers say.
Using 25,132 high-resolution images, researchers were able to track where bats occurred in Europe between 1980 and 2013. They were also able to identify whether populations increased following urbanization or changes in climate, for example.
Kuhl's pipistrelle bats were once only found in areas of North Africa, southern Europe and Western Asia. By the 1980s, however, the species had spread to areas in northern France and Bulgaria. That range has rapidly expanded today, with populations establishing themselves in the U.K., and eastern regions such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Poland.
Findings of the latest study suggest warmer winter temperatures at higher latitudes in the newly colonized areas have invited more bats to stay. Increased rainfall, and therefore more abundant water and food sources, has also aided the animal's relocation. Urbanization, on the other hand, had no bearing on the animals' expansion.
Their study was recently published in The Science of Nature.