Light enough to travel: migratory bats have smaller brains, but not larger hippocampi, than sedentary species

McGuire, L.P.; Ratcliffe, J.M.

Biology Letters 7(2): 233-236


ISSN/ISBN: 1744-957X
PMID: 20880862
DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0744
Accession: 037438780

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Migratory bird species have smaller brains than non-migratory species. The behavioural flexibility/migratory precursor hypothesis suggests that sedentary birds have larger brains to allow the behavioural flexibility required in a seasonally variable habitat. The energy trade-off hypothesis proposes that brains are heavy, energetically expensive and therefore, incompatible with migration. Here, we compared relative brain, neocortex and hippocampus volume between migratory and sedentary bats at the species-level and using phylogenetically independent contrasts. We found that migratory bats had relatively smaller brains and neocortices than sedentary species. Our results support the energy trade-off hypothesis because bats do not exhibit the same degree of flexibility in diet selection as sedentary birds. Our results also suggest that bat brain size differences are subtler than those found in birds, perhaps owing to bats' shorter migration distances. Conversely, we found no difference in relative hippocampus volume between migratory and sedentary species, underscoring our limited understanding of the role of the hippocampus in bats.