Letters to Nature

Nature 429, 657-661 (10 June 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02547; Received 31 October 2003; Accepted 5 April 2004

Echolocation signals reflect niche differentiation in five sympatric congeneric bat species

Björn M. Siemers & Hans-Ulrich Schnitzler

  1. Animal Physiology, Zoological Institute, University of Tübingen, Morgenstelle 28, 72076 Tübingen, Germany

Correspondence to: Björn M. Siemers Email: bjoern.siemers@uni-tuebingen.de

Echolocating bats can be divided into guilds according to their preferred habitat and foraging behaviour1, 2, 3, 4, which coincide with distinct adaptations in wing morphology5 and structure of echolocation signals6. Although coarse structuring of niche space between different guilds is generally accepted, it is not clear how niches differ within guilds7, 8, 9, 10, or whether there is fine-grained niche differentiation reflected in echolocation signal structure11, 12. Using a standardized performance test, here we show clutter-dependent differences in prey-capture success for bats from five species of European Myotis. These species are morphologically similar, sympatric13, and all belong to the guild labelled "edge space aerial/trawling foragers"4. We further demonstrate a strong correlation between the prey-detection ability of the species and the respective search-call bandwidth. Our findings indicate that differences in echolocation signals contribute to within-guild niche differentiation. This is the first study relating sensory abilities of a set of potentially competing animal species to a direct measure of their respective foraging performance, suggesting an important role of sensory ecology in the structuring of animal communities.

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