Many species are widely distributed and individual populations can experience vastly different environmental conditions over seasonal and geographic scales. With such a broad ecological reality, datasets with limited spatial and temporal resolution may not accurately represent a species and could lead to poorly informed management decisions. Because physiological flexibility can help species tolerate environmental variation, we studied the physiological responses of two separate populations of Macronycteris commersoni, a bat widespread across Madagascar, in contrasting seasons. The populations roost under the following dissimilar conditions: either a hot, well-buffered cave or within open foliage, unprotected from the local weather. We found that flexible torpor patterns, used in response to prevailing ambient temperature and relative humidity, were central to keeping energy budgets balanced in both populations. While bats’ metabolic rate during torpor and rest did not differ between roosts, adjusting torpor frequency, duration and timing helped bats maintain body condition. Interestingly, the exposed forest roost induced extensive use of torpor, which exceeded the torpor frequency of overwintering bats that stayed in the cave for months and consequently minimised daytime resting energy expenditure in the forest. Our current understanding of intraspecific physiological variation is limited and physiological traits are often considered to be fixed. The results of our study therefore highlight the need for examining species at broad environmental scales to avoid underestimating a species’ full capacity for withstanding environmental variation, especially in the face of ongoing, disruptive human interference in natural habitats.
- physiological flexibility
- adaptive/facultative hyperthermia