, Volume 186, Issue 1, pp 49–58 | Cite as

Predator–prey interaction reveals local effects of high-altitude insect migration

  • Jennifer J. Krauel
  • Veronica A. Brown
  • John K. Westbrook
  • Gary F. McCracken
Behavioral ecology –original research


High-altitude nocturnal insect migrations are ubiquitous and represent significant pulses of biomass, which impact large areas and multiple trophic levels, yet are difficult to study and poorly understood. Predation on migratory insects by high-flying bats provides potential for investigating flows of migratory insects across a landscape. Brazilian free-tailed bats, Tadarida brasiliensis, provide valuable ecosystem services by consuming migratory pests, and research suggests migratory insects are an important resource to bats in autumn. We sequenced insect DNA from bat feces collected during the 2010–2012 autumn migrations of insects over southern Texas, and tested the utility of predator–prey interactions for monitoring migratory insect populations by asking: 1) how extensively do bats consume migratory insects during autumn? (2) does the prey community reflect known drivers of insect migrations, e.g. cold fronts? and (3) are migratory insects increasingly important to bats when local food resources decline in autumn? Bats consumed at least 21 species of migratory insects and 44 species of agricultural pests. Prey community richness increased with cold front passage. Bats consumed migratory moths over the entire autumn season, and the proportion of migratory moths in the bat diet increased over the course of the autumn season in all 3 years. This study confirms extensive consumption of migratory insects by bats, links patterns in prey communities to mechanisms driving insect migration, and documents a novel approach to tracking patterns of migratory insect movement. As an important resource for T. brasiliensis in autumn, migratory insects provide stabilizing effects to the local animal community.


Lepidoptera: Noctuidae, Chiroptera: Molossidae Diet analysis Ecosystem services Helicoverpa zea 



We thank J. N. Welch, D. Jones, and R. Miller for field assistance, D. Jones for lab assistance, and C. Walsh for assistance assigning haplotypes to species. We thank S. Parker and the W. Cofer, B. Gilleland, W. Gilleland, and R. King families for generous access to their property, and B. Walker, R. Zaiglin, and the students of Southwest Texas Junior College Wildlife Management Program for additional field assistance. We thank the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the James R. Cox Professor Endowment at the University of Tennessee, and Bat Conservation International for funding. All experiments were performed under UTK-IACUC protocol no. 1947 and Texas Scientific Research Permit No. SPR-0810-119, and complied with the current laws of the country in which they were performed.

Author contribution statement

JJK and GFM originally formulated the idea, JJK conducted fieldwork, JKW provided interpretation of results, VB generated sequencing data, and JJK performed molecular and statistical analyses and wrote the manuscript with assistance of VB, JKW and GFM.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Data accessibility

Data will be available from the Dryad Digital Repository upon manuscript acceptance.

Supplementary material

442_2017_3995_MOESM1_ESM.docx (110 kb)
Spreadsheet mapping haplotypes to sampling dates (DOCX 109 kb)
442_2017_3995_MOESM2_ESM.docx (123 kb)
Spreadsheet with all haplotypes and assignments (DOCX 122 kb)
442_2017_3995_MOESM3_ESM.docx (24 kb)
Spreadsheet with all identified species (DOCX 23 kb)
442_2017_3995_MOESM4_ESM.csv (141 kb)
Expanded laboratory methods and Bioinformatics workflow (CSV 141 kb)
442_2017_3995_MOESM5_ESM.csv (133 kb)
Compressed archive of bioinformatics scripts (CSV 133 kb)
442_2017_3995_MOESM6_ESM.xlsx (47 kb)
Supplemental methods and discussion (XLSX 47 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecology and Evolutionary Biology DepartmentUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Department of AgricultureAgricultural Research ServiceCollege StationUSA

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