Trophic niche flexibility in Glossophaga soricina: how a nectar seeker sneaks an insect snack

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2014
Authors:Clare, EL, Goerlitz, HR, Drapeau, VA, Holderied, MW, Adams, AM, Nagel, J, Dumont, ER, Hebert, PDN, M. Fenton, B
Secondary Authors:Konarzewski, M
Journal:Functional Ecology
Pagination:632 - 641
Date Published:Jan-06-2014
Keywords:acoustic modelling, bats, molecular scatology, predator–prey, stealth echolocation

Omnivory enables animals to fill more than one trophic niche, providing access to a wider variety of food resources with potentially higher nutrient value, particularly when resources become scarce. Animals can achieve omnivory using different strategies, for example opportunistic foraging, or switching between multiple trophic niches.

The Neotropical bat Glossophaga soricina (Pallas, 1766) is a common and widespread species known for nectar feeding, but it also eats fruit and insects. Approaching stationary objects (flowers and fruits) or moving objects (insects) poses different sensory tasks and should require different echolocation behaviours. Here we tested the contrasting hypothesis that G. soricina can approach both stationary and moving objects using the same echolocation behaviour, thus feeding at different trophic levels by a single sensory mechanism.

Using DNA barcoding, we demonstrate that G. soricina eats beetles (Coleoptera), flies (Diptera) and noctuid moths with bat-detecting ears. Laboratory observations show that G. soricina actively hunts for prey so insect consumption does not appear to be opportunistic. After capture, individuals consumed prey while perched and manipulated them with jaw, thumb, wrist and wing movements, but food handling was longer and chewing rate slower than in obligate insectivores.

In contrast to most insectivorous bats, the echolocation calls of G. soricina are of high frequency and low intensity, and G. soricina did not produce feeding buzzes when approaching insects. An acoustic model of detection distances shows that its low-intensity calls fail to trigger the auditory neurons of eared moths, allowing G. soricina to overcome auditory prey defences.

Individuals achieved niche flexibility using a unique but generalist behavioural approach rather than employing two different specialist methods. Our findings provide a novel insight into the functional mechanisms of insect capture in G. soricina and highlight the importance of considering niche flexibility in classifying trophic links in ecological communities.

Short Title:Funct Ecol
BioAcoustica ID: 
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith