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Concealed by darkness: interactions between predatory bats and nocturnally migrating songbirds illuminated by DNA sequencing

AuthorsIbáñez, Carlos ; Popa-Lisseanu, Ana G.; Pastor-Beviá, David; García-Mudarra, Juan L. ; Juste, Javier
KeywordsBird migration
Nyctalus lasiopterus
Molecular diet
Trophic: Chiroptera
Issue Date2016
PublisherBlackwell Publishing
CitationMolecular Ecology 25: 5254- 5263 (2016)
AbstractRecently, several species of aerial-hawking bats have been found to prey on migrating songbirds, but details on this behaviour and its relevance for bird migration are still unclear. We sequenced avian DNA in feather-containing scats of the bird-feeding bat Nyctalus lasiopterus from Spain collected during bird migration seasons. We found very high prey diversity, with 31 bird species from eight families of Passeriformes, almost all of which were nocturnally flying sub-Saharan migrants. Moreover, species using tree hollows or nest boxes in the study area during migration periods were not present in the bats’ diet, indicating that birds are solely captured on the wing during night-time passage. Additional to a generalist feeding strategy, we found that bats selected medium-sized bird species, thereby assumingly optimizing their energetic cost-benefit balance and injury risk. Surprisingly, bats preyed upon birds half their own body mass. This shows that the 5% prey to predator body mass ratio traditionally assumed for aerial hunting bats does not apply to this hunting strategy or even underestimates these animals’ behavioural and mechanical abilities. Considering the bats’ generalist feeding strategy and their large prey size range, we suggest that nocturnal bat predation may have influenced the evolution of bird migration strategies and behaviour.
Identifiersdoi: 10.1111/mec.13831
issn: 1365-294X
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