European Journal of Wildlife Research

, Volume 57, Issue 4, pp 843–849 | Cite as

Trophic niche partitioning of cryptic species of long-eared bats in Switzerland: implications for conservation

  • Sohrab AshrafiEmail author
  • Andres Beck
  • Marianne Rutishauser
  • Raphaël Arlettaz
  • Fabio Bontadina
Original Paper


Dietary niche partitioning is postulated to play a major role for the stable coexistence of species within a community, particularly among cryptic species. Molecular markers have recently revealed the existence of a new cryptic species of long-eared bat, Plecotus macrobullaris, in the European Alps. We studied trophic niches as well as seasonal and regional variations of diet in eight colonies of the three Plecotus species occurring in Switzerland. Faeces were collected monthly from individuals returning to roost after foraging. Twenty-one arthropod categories were recognized from the faeces. All three species fed predominantly on Lepidoptera, which made up 41%, 87% and 88% (means across colonies) of the diet composition of P. auritus, P. macrobullaris and P. austriacus, respectively. The occurrence of numerous fragments of both diurnal and flightless insects in the diet of P. auritus (but rarely in the diet of the other two species) indicates that this species mostly gleans prey from substrates. P. austriacus and P. macrobullaris are more typical aerial feeders. The latter two species have narrow trophic niches, whilst P. auritus has a much broader diet. Comparison of intraspecific and interspecific niche overlaps in P. auritus and P. macrobullaris in sympatry suggests dietary niche partitioning between these two species. In contrast, the high similarity of the trophic niches of P. austriacus and P. macrobullaris, associated with a typical parapatric distribution, indicates competitive exclusion. The best conservation measures are preservation and restoration of habitats offering a high abundance of moths, the major prey of the three Plecotus species.


Cryptic species Niche partitioning Niche breadth Niche overlap Plecotus Switzerland 



We thank A. Ehrenbold and P. Jud for their support during the field and laboratory work. We are also grateful to F. Abadi and J. Goudet for their help with the data analysis. We extend warm thanks to G. Jones and two anonymous reviewers who reviewed previous drafts of this paper and helped with valuable comments to improve it. Alice Buhayer kindly improved the English. Field work was carried out under licence of the respective cantonal authorities.

Supplementary material

10344_2011_496_MOESM1_ESM.doc (64 kb)
Table S1 Number of long-eared bats (n = 251; 137 P. auritus; 73 P. macrobullaris; 41 P. austriacus) mist-netted at the entrance to maternity roosts in six parapatric (separate roosts) and two sympatric (mixed roosts) populations in Valais (Swiss uplands) and Argovia (Swiss lowlands). P. aur P. auritus, P. mac P. macrobullaris and P. aus P. austriacus (DOC 64 kb)


  1. Arlettaz R (1999) Habitat selection as a major resource partitioning mechanism between the two sympatric sibling bat species Myotis myotis and Myotis blythii. J Anim Ecol 68:460–471CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arlettaz R, Perrin N, Hausser J (1997) Trophic resource partitioning and competition between the two sibling bat species Myotis myotis and Myotis blythii. J Anim Ecol 66:897–911CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arlettaz R, Godat S, Meyer H (2000) Competition for food by expanding pipistrelle bat populations (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) might contribute to the decline of lesser horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus hipposideros). Biol Conserv 93:55–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ashrafi S, Bontadina F, Kiefer A, Pavlinic I, Arlettaz R (2010) Multiple morphological characters needed for field identification of cryptic long-eared bat species around the Swiss Alps. J Zool 281:241–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beck A (1995) Fecal analyses of European bat species. Myotis 32–33:109–119Google Scholar
  6. Begon M, Harper JL, Townsend CR (1986) Ecology. Blackwell Scientific Publications, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  7. Benda P, Hulva P, Gaisler J (2004a) Systematic status of African populations of Pipistrellus pipistrellus complex (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae), with a description of a new species from Cyrenaica, Libya. Acta Chiropt 6:193–217Google Scholar
  8. Benda P, Kiefer A, Hanák V, Veith M (2004b) Systematic status of African populations of long-eared bats, genus Plecotus (Mammalia: Chiroptera). Folia Zool 53:1–47Google Scholar
  9. Bontadina F, Schmied SF, Beck A, Arlettaz R (2008) Changes in prey abundance unlikely to explain the demography of a critically endangered Central European bat. J Appl Ecol 45:641–648CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Britschgi A, Spaar R, Arlettaz R (2006) Impact of grassland farming intensification on the breeding ecology of an indicator insectivorous passerine, the Whinchat Saxicola rubetra: Lessons for overall Alpine meadowland management. Conservat Biol 130:193–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Buckingham DL, Peach WJ, Fox DS (2006) Effects of agricultural management on the use of lowland grassland by foraging birds. Agr Ecosyst Environ 112:21–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dietrich S, Szameitat DP, Kiefer A, Schnitzler HU, Denzinger A (2006) Echolocation signals of the plecotine bat, Plecotus macrobullaris Kuzyakin, 1965. Acta Chiropt 8:465–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hutchinson GE (1957) Concluding Remarks. Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol 22:415–427Google Scholar
  14. Hutchinson GE (1978) An introduction to population ecology. Yale University, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  15. Hutson AM, Mickleburgh SP, Racey PA (2001) Microchiropteran Bats. IUCN, GlandCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. IUCN (2009) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. <>. Downloaded on 4 January 2010
  17. Jones G, Jacobs DS, Kunz TH, Willig MR, Racey PA (2009) Carpe noctem: the importance of bats as bioindicators. Endanger Species Res 8:93–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kiefer A, Veith M (2001) A new species of long-eared bat from Europe (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae). Myotis 39:5–16Google Scholar
  19. Kiefer A, Mayer F, Kosuch J, von Helversen O, Veith M (2002) Conflicting molecular phylogenies of European long-eared bats (Plecotus) can be explained by cryptic diversity. Mol Phylogenet Evol 25:557–566PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Krebs CJ (1999) Ecological methodology. Benjamin Cummings, Menlo parkGoogle Scholar
  21. López-Gómez J, Molina-Meyer M (2006) The competitive exclusion principle versus biodiversity through competitive segregation and further adaptation to spatial heterogeneities. Theor Popul Biol 69:94–109PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mattei-Roesli M (2010) Situazione del genere Plecotus (Chiroptera) nel Cantone Ticino (Svizzera). Bollettino della Società ticinese di scienze naturali, in pressGoogle Scholar
  23. Matusita K (1955) Decision rules based on the distance, for problems of fit, two samples and estimation. Ann Math Stat 26:631–640CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mitchell-Jones AJ (1995) Status and conservation of Horseshoe bats in Britain. Myotis 32–33:271–284Google Scholar
  25. Nicholls B, Racey PA (2006) Habitat selection as a mechanism of resource partitioning in two cryptic bat species Pipistrellus pipistrellus and Pipistrellus pygmaeus. Ecography 29:697–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. R Development Core Team (2009) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria, ISBN 3-900051-07-0, URL
  27. Ransome R (1990) The natural history of hibernating bats. Christopher Helm, LondonGoogle Scholar
  28. Ricklefs RE (1990) Ecology. W. H. Freeman and Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Rydell J (1989) Food habits of northern (Eptesicus nilssoni) and brown long-eared (Plecotus auritus) bats in Sweden. Holarct Ecol 12:16–20Google Scholar
  30. Rydell J, Entwistle A, Racey PA (1996) Timing of foraging flights of three species of bats in relation to insect activity and predation risk. Oikos 76:243–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Safi K, Kerth G (2004) A comparative analysis of specialization and extinction risk in temperate-zone bats. Conserv Biol 18:1293–1303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Sattler T, Bontadina F, Hirzel AH, Arlettaz R (2007) Ecological niche modelling of two cryptic bat species calls for a reassessment of their conservation status. J Appl Ecol 44:1188–1199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schoener TW (1986) Resource partitioning. In: Kikkawa J, Anderson DJ (eds) Community ecology: pattern and process: 91. Blackwell Scientific Publications, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  34. Seto M, Akag T (2007) Coexistence introducing regulation of environmental conditions. J Theor Biol 248:267–274PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Shiel C, McAney C, Sullivan C, Fairley J (1997) Identification of arthropod fragments in bat droppings. Mammal Society, LondonGoogle Scholar
  36. Spitzenberger F, Haring E, Tvrtkovic N (2002) Plecotus microdontus (Mammalia, Vespertilionidae), a new bat species from Austria. Nat Croat 11:1–18Google Scholar
  37. Spitzenberger F, Strelkov P, Haring E (2003) Morphology and mitochondrial DNA sequences show that Plecotus alpinus Kiefer & Veith, 2002 and Plecotus microdontus Spitzenberger, 2002 are synonyms of Plecotus macrobullaris Kuzjakin, 1965. Nat Croat 12:39–53Google Scholar
  38. Spitzenberger F, Strelkov PP, Winkler H, Haring E (2006) A preliminary revision of the genus Plecotus (Chiroptera, Vespertilionidae) based on genetic and morphological results. Zool Scr 35:187–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stebbings RE (1988) The conservation of European bats. Christopher Helm, LondonGoogle Scholar
  40. Swift SM, Racey PA (1983) Resource partitioning in two species of vespertilionid bats (Chiroptera) occupying the same roost. J Zool 200:249–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Vitt LJ, Sartorius SS, Avila-Pires TCS, Esposito MC, Miles DB (2000) Niche segregation among sympatric Amazonian teiid lizards. Oecologia 122:410–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Walsh AL, Harris S (1996a) Foraging habitat preferences of vespertilionid bats in Britain. J Appl Ecol 33:508–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Walsh AL, Harris S (1996b) Factors determining the abundance of vespertilionid bats in Britain: geographical, land class and local habitat relationships. J Appl Ecol 33:519–529CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wang ZL, Zhang DY, Wang G (2005) Does spatial structure facilitate coexistence of identical competitors? Ecol Modell 181:17–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Whitaker JO Jr (1988) Food habits analysis of insectivorous bats. In: Kunz TH (ed) Ecological and behavioral methods for the study of bats. Smothsonian Institution, Washington, pp 171–210Google Scholar
  46. Whitaker JO, Karatas A (2009) Food and feeding habits of some bats from Turkey. Acta Chiropt 11:393–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wickramasinghe LP, Harris S, Jones G, Jennings NV (2004) Abundance and species richness of nocturnal insects on organic and conventional farms: effects of agricultural intensification on bat foraging. Conserv Biol 18:1283–1292CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sohrab Ashrafi
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Andres Beck
    • 2
  • Marianne Rutishauser
    • 1
  • Raphaël Arlettaz
    • 1
  • Fabio Bontadina
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Division of Conservation BiologyUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.SWILD–Urban Ecology & Wildlife ResearchZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Department of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Natural ResourcesUniversity of TehranKarajIran

Personalised recommendations