Nights in Las Cruces can get a little wild, or at least you think they are when you have spent six nights in the jungle. Why would anyone want to do that you ask: bats of course! The only mammals that can fly. These awesome creatures are not only cute as hell, they also provide a massive amount of ecosystem services; from disease control, by hunting disease vectors like mosquitos, to pollinating fruiting plants essential for life. That’s right you can thank the Mexican long nosed bat for your tequila sunrise in the morning. Agave is pollinated by just that one species of bat. Bats are also the second most diverse mammalian order after rodents. It’s believed that the evolution of flight opened up new niche space for the ancestors of bats, leading to a rapid adaptive radiation. Now we have all sorts of crazy bats, from giant fruit eating flying foxes in Australia, to small blood sucking vampires here in Costa Rica. Of course the niche space that was opened by the evolution of flight filled rapidly, and we now have many species specializing on the same resources, as well as using the same fly space to access those resources. This leads to competition, which is where we come in. Two promising, up-and-coming researchers Paul Furumo and Kevin McCormick recently completed some work attempting to determine if a bat’s wing shape influenced where it foraged. During the study we noticed that we seemed to catch different bats at different times of the night. We knew that some of these species, like those in genus Carollia, specialize on pretty specific fruits like Piper. Therefore, we thought that the patterns we were seeing of different species showing up at our nets at different times might have something to do with how bats avoid direct competition over food and fly space. With this in mind we spent an extra three nights out in the jungle, looking for answers. We found that 80% of the bats we captured were just two species, Carollia perspicillata and Dermanura watsoni. Interestingly enough, these guys are both frugivores, but they are specializing on different kinds of fruit, so if they are competing it’s for flight space not food. Yes, bats actually do compete over flight space, because the echolocation frequencies they use to navigate can actually interfere or jam each other’s signals. However, this echolocation “jamming” has mostly been described within species, not between species. Therefore, it is not just competition, but the most anticipated match in the history of OTS Las Cruces. Who will win and go to roost with a full belly? Find out here (Click on photo below) exclusively on pay per view!
As it turns out, the match ended in a tie. For whatever reason, the two fighters never appeared in the ring at the same time. One would come out, looking for challengers and find nobody. After retiring, the other contender would emerge, eager to battle it out, but alas, no one there with whom to tangle. This happened over and over, round after round, until the sun came up, and the crowd of researchers had gone home, tired from this unsynchronized affair, and wanting their money back from the cable company for hyping up such an event, and leaving them flat. The simple reason that these two forces never encountered, is a lesson of temporal niche partitioning. These two species seem to avoid each other during peak feeding times. The two contenders barely encountered one another in this cycling in and out of the ring because they were actually after different prizes. Dismayed, the researchers wrote a strong letter to the fight promoters, telling them to consider the motivations of their fighters next time, before making such a big deal about it on pay per view.