Relationship between spatial working memory performance and diet specialization in two sympatric nectar bats

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Abstract

Behavioural ecologists increasingly recognise spatial memory as one the most influential cognitive traits involved in evolutionary processes. In particular, spatial working memory (SWM), i.e. the ability of animals to store temporarily useful information for current foraging tasks, determines the foraging efficiency of individuals. As a consequence, SWM also has the potential to influence competitive abilities and to affect patterns of sympatric occurrence among closely related species. The present study aims at comparing the efficiency of SWM between generalist (Glossophaga soricina) and specialist (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae) nectarivorous bats at flowering patches. The two species differ in diet - the generalist diet including seasonally fruits and insects with nectar and pollen while the specialist diet is dominated by nectar and pollen yearlong - and in some morphological traits - the specialist being heavier and with proportionally longer rostrum than the generalist. These bats are found sympatrically within part of their range in the Neotropics. We habituated captive individuals to feed on artificial flower patches and we used infrared video recordings to monitor their ability to remember and avoid the spatial location of flowers they emptied in previous visits in the course of 15-min foraging sequences. Experiments revealed that both species rely on SWM as their foraging success attained significantly greater values than random expectations. However, the nectar specialist L. yerbabuenae was significantly more efficient at extracting nectar (+28% in foraging success), and sustained longer foraging bouts (+27% in length of efficient foraging sequences) than the generalist G. soricina. These contrasting SWM performances are discussed in relation to diet specialization and other life history traits. © 2011 Henry, Stoner.

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Henry, M., & Stoner, K. E. (2011). Relationship between spatial working memory performance and diet specialization in two sympatric nectar bats. PLoS ONE, 6(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0023773

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