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Long-lived Bats Could Hold Secrets to Mammal Life Spans

By Maryland Today Staff

University of Maryland biologists have identified four bat lineages that live at least four times longer than similar-sized mammals and revealed new traits associated with bat longevity.

Their work, published yesterday in Biology Letters, found that horseshoe bats, long-eared bats, the common vampire bat and at least one lineage of mouse-eared bats all live at least four times longer than other, similarly sized mammals. The researchers also found that a high-latitude home range and larger males than females can be used to predict a given bat species’ life span.

“This study provides multiple cases of closely related species with varying longevity, which gives us many opportunities to make comparisons and look for some underlying mechanism that would allow some species to live so long,” said Gerald Wilkinson, a biology professor and lead author of the paper.

Longevity is often correlated to body size, with larger animal species generally living longer than smaller ones. Some bat species can live 40 years—eight times longer than similarly sized mammals—which is why scientists have long sought to understand bats as a model for healthy aging.

“If we lived as long as bats, adjusted for size, we could live 240 years,” Wilkinson said.

This is the first time researchers have reconstructed longevity on an evolutionary tree constructed from the DNA of a majority of known bat species and used that information to compare traits that could account for life span differences between related species. Wilkinson and his coauthor, biological sciences graduate student Danielle Adams, analyzed traits known to correlate with longevity—body size, cave use and hibernation—as well as traits that had not been previously considered, such as home-range latitude and size differences between males and females.

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