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Proc Biol Sci. 2002 Jun 22;269(1497):1271-8.

Ecomorphological analysis of trophic niche partitioning in a tropical savannah bat community.

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  • 1Centro de Biodiversidad y Genetica, Universidad Mayor San Simon, PO Box 538, Cochabamba, Bolivia; Department of Biological Sciences, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610, Belgium.


The exceptional diversity of neotropical bat communities is sustained by an intricate partitioning of available resources among the member species. Trophical specialization is considered an important evolutionary avenue towards niche partitioning in neotropical phyllostomid bats. From an ancestral insectivorous condition, phyllostomids evolved into highly specialized frugivorous, carnivorous, nectarivorous, piscivorous and even sanguivorous species. Previously, correlations between cranial morphology and trophic ecology within this group have been documented. Here, we examine the evolutionary relationships between bite force and head shape in over 20 species of bats from a single tropical savannah bat community. The results show that bite force increases exponentially with body size across all species examined. Despite the significant differences between large dietary groups using traditional analysis (i.e. non-phylogenetic) and the strong evolutionary correlations between body mass and bite force, phylogenetic analyses indicated no differences in bite performance between insectivorous, omnivorous and frugivorous bats. Comparisons of three species with highly specialized feeding habits (nectarivory, piscivory and sanguivory) with the rest of the species in the community indicate that specialization into these niches comes at the expense of bite performance and, hence, may result in a reduction of the trophic niche breadth.

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