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Echolocation signals reflect niche differentiation in five sympatric congeneric bat species


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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Figure 1: The capture performance of bats from five sympatric Myotis species searching for prey offered at different distances from a clutter screen that mimicked a vegetation edge.
Figure 2: Representative search calls of five sympatric Myotis species in sonagram representation with time signal below and averaged power spectrum on the right.
Figure 3: Correlation of ‘minimal capture distance’ with the bandwidth of search calls for the five sympatric Myotis species.

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We thank all those who assisted with fieldwork. We also thank A. Boonman, A. Denzinger, J. Ostwald, D. Menne, E. Müller, P. Pilz, M. Sánchez-Villagra and P. Stilz for discussions, H. Harty for language assistance and B. Fenton for comments. Our research was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and a PhD scholarship by Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes to B.M.S.

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Correspondence to Björn M. Siemers.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

Details of how we built a successful logistic model using raw data for all individual bats to corroborate the relationship between capture success and search call bandwidth that we had found by regression analysis using species means. (PDF 87 kb)

Supplementary Figure

The individual capture performances of the bats we used in our experiments. Even on the individual level there is nearly no overlap between the performances of the five bat species. (PDF 71 kb)

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Siemers, B., Schnitzler, HU. Echolocation signals reflect niche differentiation in five sympatric congeneric bat species. Nature 429, 657–661 (2004).

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