A free-ranging maternity colony of big brown bats Eptesicus fuscus roosting in rock crevices along the South Saskatchewan River in south-eastern Alberta, Canada, was studied to understand better the discrepancy that exists in the literature regarding torpor use by reproductive female bats. Using radio-telemetry, thermoregulatory patterns and roost microclimate were recorded for pregnant, lactating and post-lactating females. Relative torpor use is described in several ways: the proportion of days on which torpor was used, depth, minimum body temperature, time spent in torpor, and a comprehensive torpor unit (degree-min). Pregnant and lactating female E. fuscus used torpor to the same extent overall (degree-min), but pregnant bats used torpor less frequently and with more time in deep torpor. Torpor was used to the greatest extent after weaning (post-lactation). Evidence is presented that the cost:benefit ratio for deep and prolonged periods of torpor may be highest during lactation. Microclimates of rock-crevice roosts mirrored the use of torpor throughout reproduction by bats. Lactation roosts (deeper, larger opening size) were more thermally stable and remained warmer at night compared to the shallow roosts used by pregnant and post-lactating females. It is shown that conclusions about relative use of torpor can differ depending on the units of comparison, necessitating measurement of all aspects of torpor (depth, duration and frequency). Comprehensive measurements, individual-based normothermic temperatures, and a definition of torpor that accounts for all energy savings, allow a more accurate depiction of patterns and facilitates inter-study comparisons.
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