For elusive mammals like bats, colonization of new areas and colony formation are poorly understood, as is their relationship with the genetic structure of populations. Understanding dispersal and group formation behaviors is critical not only for a better comprehension of mammalian social dynamics, but also for guiding conservation efforts of rare and endangered species. Using nuclear and mitochondrial markers, we studied patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation among and within breeding colonies of giant noctule bats (Nyctalus lasiopterus), their relation to a new colony still in formation, and the impact of this ongoing process on the regionwide genetic makeup. Nuclear differentiation among colonies was relatively low and mostly nonsignificant. Mitochondrial variation followed this pattern, contrasting with findings for other temperate bat species. Our results suggest that this may indicate a recent population expansion. On average, female giant noctules were not more closely related to other colony members than to foreign individuals. This was also true for members of the newly forming colony and those of another, older group sampled shortly after its formation, suggesting that contrary to findings for other temperate bats, giant noctule colonies are not founded by relatives. However, mother–daughter pairs were found in the same populations more often than expected under random dispersal. Given this indication of philopatry, the lack of mitochondrial differentiation among most colonies in the region is probably due to the combination of a recent population expansion and group formation events.
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