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Fruit scent as an indicator of ripeness status in ‘bat fruits’ to attract ‘fruit bats’: chemical basis of chiropterochory

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In the tropics, animal-mediated seed dispersal is the most frequently occurring dispersal syndrome, which includes traits that aid in attracting both diurnal and nocturnal dispersers. However, some plants bear fruits with special traits that make them less conspicuous to diurnal frugivores to make them exclusively available to nocturnal frugivores such as bats, which are called ‘bat fruits’. Since these fruits remain drab green in colour throughout their phases of ontogeny, the difference in scent compounds is predicted to help bats to assess their ripeness status. In this study, we specifically examined the behavioural repertoires associated with fruit removal such as ‘search latency’ and ‘number of attempts’ taken by two small-sized fruit bats (Cynopterus sphinx and Rousettus leschenaulti) that feed ex situ and a large-sized fruit bat (Pteropus giganteus) that feed in situ on a bat fruit (Madhuca indica). No fruit was removed on the ‘first’ attempt itself by both the bats; instead, they made multiple (two to six) repeated search attempts to the same bunch of fruits, which is presumably a behavioural mechanism underlying assessing the ripeness status to increase the chance of removal of ripe fruits. The emission of scent compounds was examined using a high-sensitivity headspace proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometer in real time without any pre-treatment. As predicted, the fruits at the predispersal (unripe) and dispersal (ripe) phases differed significantly from each other in terms of concentration (intensity) of volatile compounds although no difference was inferred in terms of their composition. This study, thereby, highlights the underlying chemical basis of the foraging behaviour of fruit bats while foraging on bat fruits that finally effectuate its seed dispersal (chiropterochory).

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We thank Punjab Forest Department for providing the necessary permits to study the foraging ecology of fruit bats (File No.: 1389). The IISER Mohali Central Atmospheric Chemistry facility is acknowledged for contributing to the mass spectrometric analyses and data. We thank Sanjeev Kumar and Sharan Singh for assisting us in the fieldwork and members of the Behavioural Ecology Lab for their support. MJ thanks Hanumanthan Raghuram for introducing her to the world of bats.


This study was funded by the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Mohali.

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VM and MJ conceived and designed the study. VM conducted the fieldwork and recorded all behavioural observations. HH and VM conducted the PTRMS analyses under the supervision of VS. VM and MJ carried out all statistical analyses. VM and MJ wrote the manuscript with inputs from VS on the PTR-MS section. All authors read, reviewed and approved the final version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Valliyappan Mahandran.

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Ethics approval

This study was carried out in accordance with the Institutional Animal Ethics Committee of IISER Mohali (Approval No.: IISERM/SAFE/PRT/2018/003) and Punjab Forest Department (Approval No.: 1389, dated: June 07, 2017).

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All the authors read the final draft and gave consent for publication.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Mahandran, V., Hakkim, H., Sinha, V. et al. Fruit scent as an indicator of ripeness status in ‘bat fruits’ to attract ‘fruit bats’: chemical basis of chiropterochory. acta ethol 26, 1–11 (2023).

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