Social and genetic drivers of behaviour and life history in horseshoe bats

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Organisms seldom exist in isolation. The transmission of an individual’s genes often depends on its social environment. From conception, an individual’s growth and survival are defined by the resources allocated by its mother. Similarly, in forming groups, the actions of conspecifics can mediate access to resources through competition or cooperation. Thus, phenotypic variation can be shaped by the dynamics of interactions with conspecifics, in addition to genetic effects. In this thesis, I explore questions related to the evolution of behavioural and life history strategies, using two species of long-lived horseshoe bat (Chiroptera: Rhinolophidae) as model systems. Chapter 2 examines whether bi-parental or maternal kinship influences spatial assortment in underground hibernacula among individual greater horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), driving population sociogenetic structure. Neither measure of kinship was an important predictor of assortment; rather, associations within roosts were age-structured. Chapter 3 investigates the potential benefits of group-living for hibernating lesser horseshoe bats (R. hipposideros), specifically the “social alarm-clock” hypothesis which proposes that torpid individuals may use the activity of nearby normothermic conspecifics as an inadvertent social cue indicating favourable conditions to arouse. Temperature cues proved most important for triggering arousals, but evidence for social transmission of arousals was found, particularly in Autumn. Chapter 4 applies quantitative genetic analysis to a long-term study of R. ferrumequinum to estimate the heritability and evolvability of morphological and life-history traits, and to investigate the role of maternal effects in shaping phenotypic variation. The results show high heritability but low evolvability for morphological traits and low heritability but high evolvability for life-history traits. Maternal effects were weak, implying limited maternal influence on offspring phenotypic variation for the traits studied. Overall, this thesis provides insight into the social and genetic factors driving phenotypic variation in bats.
Date of Award3 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bristol
SupervisorGareth Jones (Supervisor), Mark A Beaumont (Supervisor), Stephen Rossiter (Supervisor) & Darren Croft (Supervisor)


  • greater horseshoe bat
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Evolutionary ecology
  • Social behaviour
  • Social environment
  • Social networks
  • Bats
  • Life History
  • lesser horseshoe bat
  • Hibernation

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