Applied Zoology and Nature Conservation
Role of olfaction in bats’ social relationships
The vast majority of bat species show a high propensity for group living, with colonies varying enormously in size (from a few individuals to millions of them), stability and composition depending primarily on the species. Their social systems and breeding habits are often very complex and largely understudied. Due to their cryptic lifestyles and peculiar characteristics, in fact, bats’ behaviour is usually very difficult to study both in the field and in the laboratory. Considered the threats bat species are facing, such as habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change and roost destruction, understanding the factors influencing their social structure is of fundamental importance in order to design appropriate protection plans.
In this perspective, my PhD project will focus on the study of the role of olfaction in bats’ social relationships. Myotis bechsteinii represent one of the most suitable species to investigate such processes. In fact, females always return to the maternity colony where they were born, forming in this way strictly closed societies in which immigration and emigration are extremely rare. They are known to be able to recognise individuals of different colonies and to adopt aggressive behaviours towards them. Considered bats’ nocturnal habits, olfaction represents one of most crucial senses in social communication. In this species, secretions of the interaural glands are known to differ considerably between colonies and to be individual-specific. Therefore, I will investigate the role of gland secretions in the avoidance of non-colony members and in the propensity to spend time with some colony members instead of others. Moreover, I will study if gland secretions vary depending on sex, age and season. This will allow us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing the social structure of Myotis bechsteinii and other species and thus to provide fundamental information for protection plans and for the quantification of the consequences of human impact on these animals.
Sexual selection, phenotypic plasticity and science popularization
My past experience revolved mainly around phenotypic plasticity in sexually selected traits in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata), including the analysis of sexual behaviour and sperm traits.
In addition, as a board member of the Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology, I developed a keen interest in the communication and popularization of science.