For Desert Bats, The Secret to Survival Is Skin Deep
Photo credit Shai Pilosof, via press release
Scientists from the Ben-Gurion University in Israel have discovered the secret to how desert bats survive such water-sparse environments. The secret is in the skin. They've adapted a way to minimize water loss through their skin, and this discovery may lead to an understanding of how bats can cope with changing ecosystems. Because bats have large, hairless wings and expend a substantial amount of energy during flight, it's thought that desert bats would loose too much water through evaporation to survive in the desert. But the researchers have found that the Pipistrellus kuhli, shown above, loses only 80% of what non-desert species lose.
Desert bats have less water loss through the skin, or cutaneous water loss. It seems they have been able to adjust the fat composition of their skin in order to achieve this. According to the scientists, this could be important to knowing how, and if, bats can adjust to major changes in their environment, including those brought on by climate change like desertification. The scientists plan to start a database and compile information on other desert bats for further understanding.
However, desertification may be the least of bats' worries. Right now, the most pressing issue for survival is a widespread fungus that infects bats and harms their respiratory system. No one really knows how to help bats combat it, or how to stop it from spreading. European bats seem to be more resistant, but the disease is spreading all over the globe.
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