Trophic niche flexibility in Glossophaga soricina: How a nectar seeker sneaks an insect snack

Elizabeth L. Clare*, Holger R. Goerlitz, Violaine A. Drapeau, Marc W. Holderied, Amanda M. Adams, Juliet Nagel, Elizabeth R. Dumont, Paul D N Hebert, M. Brock Fenton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Summary: Omnivory enables animals to fill more than one trophic niche, providing access to a wider variety of food resources with potentially higher nutrient value, particularly when resources become scarce. Animals can achieve omnivory using different strategies, for example opportunistic foraging, or switching between multiple trophic niches. The Neotropical bat Glossophaga soricina (Pallas, 1766) is a common and widespread species known for nectar feeding, but it also eats fruit and insects. Approaching stationary objects (flowers and fruits) or moving objects (insects) poses different sensory tasks and should require different echolocation behaviours. Here we tested the contrasting hypothesis that G. soricina can approach both stationary and moving objects using the same echolocation behaviour, thus feeding at different trophic levels by a single sensory mechanism. Using DNA barcoding, we demonstrate that G. soricina eats beetles (Coleoptera), flies (Diptera) and noctuid moths with bat-detecting ears. Laboratory observations show that G. soricina actively hunts for prey so insect consumption does not appear to be opportunistic. After capture, individuals consumed prey while perched and manipulated them with jaw, thumb, wrist and wing movements, but food handling was longer and chewing rate slower than in obligate insectivores. In contrast to most insectivorous bats, the echolocation calls of G. soricina are of high frequency and low intensity, and G. soricina did not produce feeding buzzes when approaching insects. An acoustic model of detection distances shows that its low-intensity calls fail to trigger the auditory neurons of eared moths, allowing G. soricina to overcome auditory prey defences. Individuals achieved niche flexibility using a unique but generalist behavioural approach rather than employing two different specialist methods. Our findings provide a novel insight into the functional mechanisms of insect capture in G. soricina and highlight the importance of considering niche flexibility in classifying trophic links in ecological communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)632-641
Number of pages10
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Acoustic modelling
  • Bat
  • Molecular scatology
  • Predator-prey
  • Stealth echolocation


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