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Journal Article

How nectar-feeding bats localize their food: Echolocation behavior of Leptonycteris yerbabuenae approaching cactus flowers

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Gonzalez-Terrazas, T. P., Koblitz, J. C., Fleming, T. H., Medellin, R. A., Kalko, E. K. V., Schnitzler, H. U., et al. (2016). How nectar-feeding bats localize their food: Echolocation behavior of Leptonycteris yerbabuenae approaching cactus flowers. PLoS One, 11(9): e0163492. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0163492.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-A4EF-5
Nectar-feeding bats show morphological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations for feeding on nectar. How they find and localize flowers is still poorly understood. While scent cues alone allow no precise localization of a floral target, the spatial properties of flower echoes are very precise and could play a major role, particularly at close range. The aim of this study is to understand the role of echolocation for classification and localization of flowers. We compared the approach behavior of Leptonycteris yerbabuenae to flowers of a columnar cactus, Pachycereus pringlei, to that to an acrylic hollow hemisphere that is acoustically conspicuous to bats, but has different acoustic properties and, contrary to the cactus flower, present no scent. For recording the flight and echolocation behaviour we used two infrared video cameras under stroboscopic illumination synchronized with ultrasound recordings. During search flights all individuals identified both targets as a possible food source and initiated an approach flight; however, they visited only the cactus flower. In experiments with the acrylic hemisphere bats aborted the approach at ca. 40-50 cm. In the last instant before the flower visit the bats emitted a long terminal group of 10-20 calls. This is the first report of this behaviour for a nectar-feeding bat. Our findings suggest that L. yerbabuenae use echolocation for classification and localization of cactus flowers and that the echo-acoustic characteristics of the flower guide the bats directly to the flower opening.