Communication and Social Influences on Foraging in Bats
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Using social information can be an efficient way to respond to changing situations or to learn skills. Other benefits of foraging in a group, such as social facilitation, have also been reported. Furthermore, individuals foraging near conspecifics may use acoustic communication to mediate interactions. Many bat species (Order Chiroptera) are
gregarious, and many tropical frugivorous bats rely on seasonally-abundant foods such that following conspecifics to a food source could benefit "followers" without harming "leaders." Animal-eating bats do not typically share food, but information obtained from experienced foragers could help facilitate development of prey acquisition skills in young
bats. Additionally, communicative vocalizations serving various social functions have been reported in diverse bat species.
Despite the opportunities for social learning and information transfer that many bats experience, few studies have attempted to determine if these phenomena occur in bats. Similarly, despite research on echolocation and some communicative calls, the context and function of social calls emitted by flying, foraging bats have received relatively little study. In this dissertation, I examine interactions between individuals in a
foraging context and the impact of these interactions on the individuals' behavior. Specifically, I used pairs of big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) to test whether insectivorous bats can acquire a new foraging skill via social learning and what social cues might facilitate learning. I then describe the context of and attribute function to
social calls emitted by bats in pairs. Finally, I examine the effects of social context on the foraging behavior of the frugivorous short-tailed fruit bat (Carollia perspicillata) presented with a food-finding task.
My results provide the first evidence of the role of social learning (via attention to feeding buzzes and interaction with experienced individuals) in the development of foraging skills in young insectivorous bats. I also report a repertoire of social calls produced by foraging big brown bats and present evidence that males use social calls to defend food and increase their foraging success. Finally, I present evidence that social
facilitation increases foraging performance in short-tailed fruit bats. These findings contribute to our knowledge of the social aspects of foraging in group-living animals.