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Nature. 2004 Jun 10;429(6992):657-61.

Echolocation signals reflect niche differentiation in five sympatric congeneric bat species.

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


Echolocating bats can be divided into guilds according to their preferred habitat and foraging behaviour, which coincide with distinct adaptations in wing morphology and structure of echolocation signals. Although coarse structuring of niche space between different guilds is generally accepted, it is not clear how niches differ within guilds, or whether there is fine-grained niche differentiation reflected in echolocation signal structure. 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, sympatric, and all belong to the guild labelled "edge space aerial/trawling foragers". 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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