ABSTRACT: Morphological variation between individuals can increase niche segregation and decrease intraspecific competition when heterogeneous individuals explore their environment in different ways. Among bat species, wing shape correlates with flight maneuverability and habitat use, with species that possess broader wings typically foraging in more cluttered habitats. However, few studies have investigated the role of morphological variation in bats for niche partitioning at the individual level. To determine the relationship between wing shape and diet, we studied a population of the insectivorous bat species Pteronotus mesoamericanus in the dry forest of Costa Rica. Individual diet was resolved using DNA metabarcoding, and bat wing shape was assessed using geometric morphometric analysis. Inter-individual variation in wing shape showed a significant relationship with both dietary dissimilarity based on Bray-Curtis estimates, and nestedness derived from an ecological network. Individual bats with broader and more rounded wings were found to feed on a greater diversity of arthropods (less nested) in comparison to individuals with triangular and pointed wings (more nested). We conclude that individual variation in bat wing morphology can impact foraging efficiency leading to the observed overall patterns of diet specialization and differentiation within the population.
Project description:Aspect ratio (AR) is one parameter used to predict the flight performance of a bat species based on wing shape. Bats with high AR wings are thought to have superior lift-to-drag ratios and are therefore predicted to be able to fly faster or to sustain longer flights. By contrast, bats with lower AR wings are usually thought to exhibit higher manoeuvrability. However, the half-span ARs of most bat wings fall into a narrow range of about 2.5-4.5. Furthermore, these predictions do not take into account the wide variation in flapping motion observed in bats. To examine the influence of different stroke patterns, we measured lift and drag of highly compliant membrane wings with different bat-relevant ARs. A two degrees of freedom shoulder joint allowed for independent control of flapping amplitude and wing sweep. We tested five models with the same variations of stroke patterns, flapping frequencies and wind speed velocities. Our results suggest that within the relatively small AR range of bat wings, AR has no clear effect on force generation. Instead, the generation of lift by our simple model mostly depends on wingbeat frequency, flapping amplitude and freestream velocity; drag is mostly affected by the flapping amplitude.
Project description:The remarkable maneuverability of flying animals results from precise movements of their highly specialized wings. Bats have evolved an impressive capacity to control their flight, in large part due to their ability to modulate wing shape, area, and angle of attack through many independently controlled joints. Bat wings, however, also contain many bones and relatively large muscles, and thus the ratio of bats' wing mass to their body mass is larger than it is for all other extant flyers. Although the inertia in bat wings would typically be associated with decreased aerial maneuverability, we show that bat maneuvers challenge this notion. We use a model-based tracking algorithm to measure the wing and body kinematics of bats performing complex aerial rotations. Using a minimal model of a bat with only six degrees of kinematic freedom, we show that bats can perform body rolls by selectively retracting one wing during the flapping cycle. We also show that this maneuver does not rely on aerodynamic forces, and furthermore that a fruit fly, with nearly massless wings, would not exhibit this effect. Similar results are shown for a pitching maneuver. Finally, we combine high-resolution kinematics of wing and body movements during landing and falling maneuvers with a 52-degree-of-freedom dynamical model of a bat to show that modulation of wing inertia plays the dominant role in reorienting the bat during landing and falling maneuvers, with minimal contribution from aerodynamic forces. Bats can, therefore, use their wings as multifunctional organs, capable of sophisticated aerodynamic and inertial dynamics not previously observed in other flying animals. This may also have implications for the control of aerial robotic vehicles.
Project description:Bat wings are characterized by high endurance, and these mammals have developed a number of adaptations that protect them from falling into obstacles and potential injuries. However, in bat populations, there are individuals with visible fresh or healed injuries to the flight-enabling body parts. The aim of this research was to determine the differences in the occurrence of wing membrane damages among species of bats that differ in ecology and behavior. The study was conducted in southern and western Poland in the years 2000-2016 and included 3,525 individuals of six species: lesser horseshoe bat Rhinolopus hipposideros, Daubenton's bat Myotis daubentonii, Natterer's bat Myotis nattereri, greater mouse-eared bat Myotis myotis, western barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus, and brown long-eared bat Plecotus auritus. In all, 2.9% of the bats studied showed damage to the flight-enabling body parts. Natterer's bat was the species with the highest number of injured individuals (21.74%). The lowest number of injured individuals (0.3%) was found in the brown long-eared bat. The most frequently observed type of damage was loss of an edge of the wing membrane (29.3%). The bat species studied differed significantly in the occurrence and location of flight enabling body parts damages. Certain behavioral and ecological factors like foraging mode, foraging habitats and habitat types of bat species determine the number of wing and tail membrane damages.
Project description:External morphology is commonly used to identify bats as well as to investigate flight and foraging behavior, typically relying on simple length and area measures or ratios. However, geometric morphometrics is increasingly used in the biological sciences to analyse variation in shape and discriminate among species and populations. Here we compare the ability of traditional versus geometric morphometric methods in discriminating between closely related bat species--in this case European horseshoe bats (Rhinolophidae, Chiroptera)--based on morphology of the wing, body and tail. In addition to comparing morphometric methods, we used geometric morphometrics to detect interspecies differences as shape changes. Geometric morphometrics yielded improved species discrimination relative to traditional methods. The predicted shape for the variation along the between group principal components revealed that the largest differences between species lay in the extent to which the wing reaches in the direction of the head. This strong trend in interspecific shape variation is associated with size, which we interpret as an evolutionary allometry pattern.
Project description:All bats experience daily and seasonal fluctuation in body mass. An increase in mass requires changes in flight kinematics to produce the extra lift necessary to compensate for increased weight. How bats modify their kinematics to increase lift, however, is not well understood. In this study, we investigated the effect of a 20% increase in mass on flight kinematics for Cynopterus brachyotis, the lesser dog-faced fruit bat. We reconstructed the 3D wing kinematics and how they changed with the additional mass. Bats showed a marked change in wing kinematics in response to loading, but changes varied among individuals. Each bat adjusted a different combination of kinematic parameters to increase lift, indicating that aerodynamic force generation can be modulated in multiple ways. Two main kinematic strategies were distinguished: bats either changed the motion of the wings by primarily increasing wingbeat frequency, or changed the configuration of the wings by increasing wing area and camber. The complex, individual-dependent response to increased loading in our bats points to an underappreciated aspect of locomotor control, in which the inherent complexity of the biomechanical system allows for kinematic plasticity. The kinematic plasticity and functional redundancy observed in bat flight can have evolutionary consequences, such as an increase potential for morphological and kinematic diversification due to weakened locomotor trade-offs.
Project description:Although the ultimate causes of high bat fatalities at wind farms are not well understood, several lines of evidence suggest that bats are attracted to wind turbines. One hypothesis is that bats would be attracted to turbines as a foraging resource if the insects that bats prey upon are commonly present on and around the turbine towers. To investigate the role that foraging activity may play in bat fatalities, we conducted a series of surveys at a wind farm in the southern Great Plains of the US from 2011-2016. From acoustic monitoring we recorded foraging activity, including feeding buzzes indicative of prey capture, in the immediate vicinity of turbine towers from all six bat species known to be present at this site. From insect surveys we found Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, and Orthoptera in consistently high proportions over several years suggesting that food resources for bats were consistently available at wind turbines. We used DNA barcoding techniques to assess bat diet composition of (1) stomach contents from 47 eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis) and 24 hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) carcasses collected in fatality searches, and (2) fecal pellets from 23 eastern red bats that were found on turbine towers, transformers, and tower doors. We found that the majority of the eastern red bat and hoary bat stomachs, the two bat species most commonly found in fatality searches at this site, were full or partially full, indicating that the bats were likely killed while foraging. Although Lepidoptera and Orthoptera dominated the diets of these two bat species, both consumed a range of prey items with individual bats having from one to six insect species in their stomachs at the time of death. The prey items identified from eastern red bat fecal pellets showed similar results. A comparison of the turbine insect community to the diet analysis results revealed that the most abundant insects at wind turbines, including terrestrial insects such as crickets and several important crop pests, were also commonly eaten by eastern red and hoary bats. Collectively, these findings suggest that bats are actively foraging around wind turbines and that measures to minimize bat fatalities should be broadly implemented at wind facilities.
Project description:Bats are the only mammals capable of powered flight, but little is known about the genetic determinants that shape their wings. Here we generated a genome for Miniopterus natalensis and performed RNA-seq and ChIP-seq (H3K27ac and H3K27me3) analyses on its developing forelimb and hindlimb autopods at sequential embryonic stages to decipher the molecular events that underlie bat wing development. Over 7,000 genes and several long noncoding RNAs, including Tbx5-as1 and Hottip, were differentially expressed between forelimb and hindlimb, and across different stages. ChIP-seq analysis identified thousands of regions that are differentially modified in forelimb and hindlimb. Comparative genomics found 2,796 bat-accelerated regions within H3K27ac peaks, several of which cluster near limb-associated genes. Pathway analyses highlighted multiple ribosomal proteins and known limb patterning signaling pathways as differentially regulated and implicated increased forelimb mesenchymal condensation in differential growth. In combination, our work outlines multiple genetic components that likely contribute to bat wing formation, providing insights into this morphological innovation.
Project description:Flight is one of the energetically most costly activities in the animal kingdom, suggesting that natural selection should work to optimize flight performance. The similar size and flight speed of birds and bats may therefore suggest convergent aerodynamic performance; alternatively, flight performance could be restricted by phylogenetic constraints. We test which of these scenarios fit to two measures of aerodynamic flight efficiency in two passerine bird species and two New World leaf-nosed bat species. Using time-resolved particle image velocimetry measurements of the wake of the animals flying in a wind tunnel, we derived the span efficiency, a metric for the efficiency of generating lift, and the lift-to-drag ratio, a metric for mechanical energetic flight efficiency. We show that the birds significantly outperform the bats in both metrics, which we ascribe to variation in aerodynamic function of body and wing upstroke: Bird bodies generated relatively more lift than bat bodies, resulting in a more uniform spanwise lift distribution and higher span efficiency. A likely explanation would be that the bat ears and nose leaf, associated with echolocation, disturb the flow over the body. During the upstroke, the birds retract their wings to make them aerodynamically inactive, while the membranous bat wings generate thrust and negative lift. Despite the differences in performance, the wake morphology of both birds and bats resemble the optimal wake for their respective lift-to-drag ratio regimes. This suggests that evolution has optimized performance relative to the respective conditions of birds and bats, but that maximum performance is possibly limited by phylogenetic constraints. Although ecological differences between birds and bats are subjected to many conspiring variables, the different aerodynamic flight efficiency for the bird and bat species studied here may help explain why birds typically fly faster, migrate more frequently and migrate longer distances than bats.
Project description:Vegetation clutter is a limiting factor for bats that forage near ground level, and may determine the distribution of species and guilds. However, many studies that evaluated the effects of vegetation clutter on bats have used qualitative descriptions rather than direct measurements of vegetation density. Moreover, few studies have evaluated the effect of vegetation clutter on a regional scale. Here, we evaluate the influence of the physical obstruction of vegetation on phyllostomid-bat assemblages along a 520 km transect in continuous Amazonian forest. We sampled bats using mist nets in eight localities during 80 nights (3840 net-hours) and estimated the ground-vegetation density with digital photographs. The total number of species, number of animalivorous species, total number of frugivorous species, number of understory frugivorous species, and abundance of canopy frugivorous bats were negatively associated with vegetation clutter. The bat assemblages showed a nested structure in relation to degree of clutter, with animalivorous and understory frugivorous bats distributed throughout the vegetation-clutter gradient, while canopy frugivores were restricted to sites with more open vegetation. The species distribution along the gradient of vegetation clutter was not closely associated with wing morphology, but aspect ratio and wing load differed between frugivores and animalivores. Vegetation structure plays an important role in structuring assemblages of the bats at the regional scale by increasing beta diversity between sites. Differences in foraging strategy and diet of the guilds seem to have contributed more to the spatial distribution of bats than the wing characteristics of the species alone.
Project description:Bats fly using a thin wing membrane composed of compliant, anisotropic skin. Wing membrane skin deforms dramatically as bats fly, and its three-dimensional configurations depend, in large part, on the mechanical behaviour of the tissue. Large, macroscopic elastin fibres are an unusual mechanical element found in the skin of bat wings. We characterize the fibre orientation and demonstrate that elastin fibres are responsible for the distinctive wrinkles in the surrounding membrane matrix. Uniaxial mechanical testing of the wing membrane, both parallel and perpendicular to elastin fibres, is used to distinguish the contribution of elastin and the surrounding matrix to the overall membrane mechanical behaviour. We find that the matrix is isotropic within the plane of the membrane and responsible for bearing load at high stress; elastin fibres are responsible for membrane anisotropy and only contribute substantially to load bearing at very low stress. The architecture of elastin fibres provides the extreme extensibility and self-folding/self-packing of the wing membrane skin. We relate these findings to flight with membrane wings and discuss the aeromechanical significance of elastin fibre pre-stress, membrane excess length, and how these parameters may aid bats in resisting gusts and preventing membrane flutter.