Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 61, Issue 9, pp 1337–1348 | Cite as

Ecological niche and phylogeny: the highly complex echolocation behavior of the trawling long-legged bat, Macrophyllum macrophyllum

  • Moritz Weinbeer
  • Elisabeth K. V. KalkoEmail author
Original Paper


Bats produce echolocation signals that reflect the sensory tasks they perform. In open air or over water, bats encounter few or no background echoes (clutter). Echolocation of such bats is the primary cue for prey perception and varies with the stage of approach to prey, typically comprising search, approach, and terminal group calls. In contrast, bats that glean stationary food from rough surfaces emit more uniform calls without a distinct terminal group. They use echolocation primarily for orientation in space and mostly need additional sensory cues for finding food because clutter echoes overlap strongly with food echoes. Macrophyllum macrophyllum is the only Neotropical leaf-nosed bat (Phyllostomidae) that hunts in clutter-poor habitat over water. As such, we hypothesized that, unlike all other members of its family, but similar to other trawling and aerial insectivorous bats, M. macrophyllum can hunt successfully by using only echolocation for prey perception. In controlled behavioral experiments on Barro Colorado Island, Panamá, we confirmed that echolocation alone is sufficient for finding prey in M. macrophyllum. Furthermore, we showed that pattern and structure of echolocation signals in M. macrophyllum are more similar to aerial and other trawling insectivorous bats than to close phylogenetic relatives. Particularly unique among phyllostomid bats, we found distinct search, approach, and terminal group calls in foraging M. macrophyllum. Call structure, however, consisting of short, multiharmonic, and steep frequency-modulated signals, closely resembled those of other phyllostomid bats. Thus, echolocation behavior in M. macrophyllum is shaped by ecological niche as well as by phylogeny.


Barro Colorado Island Foraging behavior Phyllostomidae Sensory ecology Trawling 



We thank H.-U. Schnitzler for very valuable discussions, R. Page for highly beneficial comments on an earlier version of this manuscript, three anonymous reviewers for excellent advice, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panamá) for logistical assistance and excellent working conditions. Research was supported by a PhD stipend of the German Academic Exchange Study to Weinbeer and by a grant of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG KA-1241/5-1) to Kalko. The behavioral experiments complied with the current laws of Panamá.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Experimental EcologyUniversity of UlmUlmGermany
  2. 2.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaPanamá

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