Human-induced alterations of ecosystems and environmental conditions often lead to changes in the geographical range of plants and animals. While modelling exercises may contribute to understanding such dynamics at large spatial scales, they rarely offer insights into the mechanisms that prompt the process at a local scale. Savi's pipistrelle (Hypsugo savii) is a vespertilionid bat widespread throughout the Mediterranean region. The species’ recent range expansion towards northeastern Europe is thought to be induced by urbanization, yet no study actually tested this hypothesis, and climate change is a potential alternative driver. In this radio-telemetry study, set in the Vesuvius National Park (Campania region, Southern Italy) we provide insights into the species’ thermal physiology and foraging ecology and investigate their relationships with potential large-scale responses to climate, and land use changes. Specifically, we test whether H. savii i) exploits urbanisation by selecting urban areas for roosting and foraging, and ii) tolerates heatwaves (a proxy for thermophily) through a plastic use of thermoregulation. Tolerance to heatwaves would be consistent with the observation that the species’ geographic range is not shifting but expanding northwards. Tracked bats roosted mainly in buildings but avoided urban habitats while foraging, actively selecting non-intensive farmland and natural wooded areas. Hypsugo H. savii showed tolerance to heat, reaching the highest body temperature ever recorded for a free-ranging bat (46.5 °C), and performing long periods of overheating. We conclude that H. savii is not a strictly synurbic species because it exploits urban areas mainly for roosting, and avoids them for foraging: this questions the role of synurbization as a range expansion driver. On the other hand, the species’ extreme heat tolerance and plastic thermoregulatory behaviour represent winning traits to cope with heatwaves typical of climate change-related weather fluctuations.
- Hypsugo savii