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Can skull morphology be used to predict ecological relationships between bat species? A test using two cryptic species of pipistrelle

Kate E. Barlow, Gareth Jones, Elizabeth M. Barratt

Abstract

Can ecological relationships between bat species be predicted largely on the basis of morphology? This question was addressed by investigating skull morphology of two cryptic species of the pipistrelle bat. Since 45 P. pipistrellus apparently eats larger prey than 55 P. pipistrellus, we predicted that it would have a larger overall skull size, a larger dentary apparatus, and a larger gape. To test these predictions, variables were measured from skulls of the two cryptic species, and comparisons made between them. In accordance with our predictions, overall skull size was larger in 45 P. pipistrellus than in 55 P. pipistrellus, and 45 P. pipistrellus had a longer lower jaw and the distance between the jaws at maximum gape was larger. In addition, 45 P. pipistrellus had longer upper canines, which may allow it to pierce harder prey items than 55 P. pipistrellus. Only some aspects of dietary differences between the two cryptic species could be explained by differences in skull morphology, and we suggest that empirical data, at least on diet and habitat use, are also required to explain mechanisms of resource partitioning among species in bat communities.

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