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Research Article

Bats' Conquest of a Formidable Foraging Niche: The Myriads of Nocturnally Migrating Songbirds

  • Ana G. Popa-Lisseanu mail,

    To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: anapopa@ebd.csic.es

    Affiliation: Estación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Sevilla, Spain

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  • Antonio Delgado-Huertas,

    Affiliation: Estación Experimental del Zaidín, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Granada, Spain

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  • Manuela G. Forero,

    Affiliation: Estación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Sevilla, Spain

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  • Alicia Rodríguez,

    Affiliation: Estación Experimental del Zaidín, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Granada, Spain

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  • Raphaël Arlettaz,

    Affiliations: Division of Conservation Biology, Zoological Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland, Swiss Ornithological Institute, Valais Field Station, Nature Centre, Salgesch, Switzerland

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  • Carlos Ibáñez

    Affiliation: Estación Biológica de Doñana, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Sevilla, Spain

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  • Published: February 14, 2007
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0000205

Reader Comments (7)

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Flight Performance Questions from Lab Group Discussion of Popa-Lisseanu et al. 2007

Posted by matina1 on 29 Sep 2008 at 17:03 GMT

It is remarkable to think of a vespertilionid bat capturing a songbird while using an arial-hawking strategy and two questions arose based on flight capabilities. First, has there been any modeling of the flight performance impact of N. lasiopterus catching a songbird in flight (ie, loss of height, speed, agility)? Second, how does the ratio of predator body mass to prey body mass relate to other arial-hawking predators? If this is a common ratio, are there other species of vespertilionids, or other bats for that matter, that might be predators on migrating songbirds that use an arial hawking strategy?


RE: Flight Performance Questions from Lab Group Discussion of Popa-Lisseanu et al. 2007

anapopa replied to matina1 on 25 Oct 2008 at 16:07 GMT

We haven’t done any models to test these questions. We know, however, that body mass does not entail a substantial problem for flight in the bats, at least not for commuting flight. Ibáñez et al. 2003 cites the case of a giant noctule which had a body mass of 72 g when captured, and around 18 h later, after being kept in a bag, its body mass had decreased to 61 g (a difference of 11 g). Note that mean body mass of the population is less than 50 g.
More of a problem is probably the killing, manipulation and consumption of the bird prey. Ibáñez et al. 2003 cites that aerial-hawking bats usually consume prey of up to 5% their own body mass (Fenton 1990, see Ibáñez et al. 2003), while they estimate that the birds consumed by N. lasiopterus could be up to 30% of the bat’s weight. Based on this prey/predator mass relationship, they hypothesize that Ia io could also be a predator of migratory birds. Interestingly, this was later confirmed by Thabah et al. 2007.
The main problem that an aerial-hawking bat has while killing an aerial prey is that the bat’s wings and tail are used for caging the prey in the process of hunting, and cannot be employed for active flight. Therefore the whole process needs be fast so as not to compromise flight. We hypothesized that bats would need to fly and hunt the birds very high to have time to manipulate a difficult prey while avoiding a collision with the ground. Our radar data show that this is true, and bats perform search flights over 500 m above the ground.