When did plants become important to leaf-nosed bats? Diversification of feeding habits in the family Phyllostomidae

Mol Ecol. 2011 May;20(10):2217-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2011.05082.x. Epub 2011 Apr 11.


A great proportion of bats of the New World family Phyllostomidae feed on fruit, nectar and pollen, and many of them present adaptations to feed also on insects and small vertebrates. So far, attempts to examine the diversification of feeding specialization in this group, and particularly the evolution of nectarivory and frugivory, have provided contradictory results. Here we propose a molecular phylogenetic hypothesis for phyllostomids. On the basis of a matrix of feeding habits that takes into account geographical and seasonal variation, we tested different hypotheses of the evolution of feeding specializations in the group. We find strong support for the evolutionary model of a direct dietary diversification from insectivory. The estimates of divergence times of phyllostomid bats and the reconstruction of ancestral states with a Bayesian approach support the parallel evolution of frugivory in five lineages and of nectarivory in three lineages during the Miocene. On the basis of these findings, and recent dietary studies, we propose that during the evolution of phyllostomids switches to new feeding mechanisms to access to abundant and/or underexploited resources provided selective advantages that favoured the appearance of ecological innovations independently in different lineages of the family. We did not find evidences to support or reject the hypothesis that the insectivorous most recent common ancestor of all phyllostomids was also phytophagous.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chiroptera / classification*
  • Chiroptera / genetics
  • Ecology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Plants*