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Social calls influence the foraging behavior in wild big-footed myotis

Guo, Dongge, Ding, Jianan, Liu, Heng, Zhou, Lin, Feng, Jiang, Luo, Bo, Liu, Ying
Frontiers in zoology 2021 v.18 no.1 pp. 3
DNA barcoding, Diptera, Lepidoptera, Myotis macrodactylus, Trichoptera, acoustics, adults, conspecificity, echolocation, food advertising, food availability, food composition, food consumption, insectivores, insects, species diversity
BACKGROUND: Why a variety of social animals emit foraging-associated calls during group foraging remains an open question. These vocalizations may be used to recruit conspecifics to food patches (i.e. food advertisement hypothesis) or defend food resources against competitors (food defence hypothesis), presumably depending on food availability. Insectivorous bats rely heavily on vocalizations for navigation, foraging, and social interactions. In this study, we used free-ranging big-footed myotis (Myotis macrodactylus Temminck, 1840) to test whether social calls produced in a foraging context serve to advertise food patches or to ward off food competitors. Using a combination of acoustic recordings, playback experiments with adult females and dietary monitoring (light trapping and DNA metabarcoding techniques), we investigated the relationship between insect availability and social vocalizations in foraging bats. RESULTS: The big-footed myotis uttered low-frequency social calls composed of 7 syllable types during foraging interactions. Although the dietary composition of bats varied across different sampling periods, Diptera, Lepidoptera, and Trichoptera were the most common prey consumed. The number of social vocalizations was primarily predicted by insect abundance, insect species composition, and echolocation vocalizations from conspecifics. The number of conspecific echolocation pulses tended to decrease following the emission of most social calls. Feeding bats consistently decreased foraging attempts and food consumption during playbacks of social calls with distinctive structures compared to control trials. The duration of flight decreased 1.29–1.96 fold in the presence of social calls versus controls. CONCLUSIONS: These results support the food defence hypothesis, suggesting that foraging bats employ social calls to engage in intraspecific food competition. This study provides correlative evidence for the role of insect abundance and diversity in influencing the emission of social calls in insectivorous bats. Our findings add to the current knowledge of the function of social calls in echolocating bats.