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Group Size, Survival and Surprisingly Short Lifespan in Socially Foraging Bats


Group Size, Survival and Surprisingly Short Lifespan in Socially Foraging Bats

Yann Gager et al. BMC Ecol.


Background: The relationships between group size, survival, and longevity vary greatly among social species. Depending on demographic and ecological circumstances, there are both positive and negative effects of group size variation on individual survival and longevity. For socially foraging species in particular there may be an optimal group size that predicts maximum individual survival that is directly related to the potential for information transfer, social coordination, and costs of conspecific interference. Our aim was to investigate this central aspect of evolutionary ecology by focusing on a socially foraging bat, Molossus molossus. This species optimizes foraging success by eavesdropping on the echolocation calls of group members to locate ephemeral food patches. We expected to find the highest survival and longest lifespans in small groups as a consequence of a trade-off between benefits of information transfer on ephemeral resources and costs of conspecific interference.

Results: In a mark-recapture study of 14 mixed-sex M. molossus social groups in Gamboa, Panama, spanning several years we found the expected relatively small and intermediate, but stable groups, with a mean size of 9.6 ± 6.7 adults and juveniles. We estimated survival proxies using Cox proportional hazard models and multistate-mark recapture models generated with recapture data as well as automated monitoring of roost entrances in a subset of the groups. Median survival of females was very short with 1.8 years and a maximum estimated longevity of 5.6 years. Contrary to our expectations, we found no relationship between variation in group size and survival, a result similar to few other studies.

Conclusions: Strong selection towards small group size may result from psychoacoustic and cognitive constraints related to acoustic interference in social foraging and the complexity of coordinated flight. The short lifespans were unexpected and may result from life at the energetic edge due to a highly specialized diet. The absence of a relationship between group size and survival may reflect a similar but optimized survival within the selected range of group sizes. We expect the pattern of small group sizes will be consistent in future research on species dependent on social information transfer about ephemeral resources.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Life cycle of female Molossus molossus
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Temporal variation of total group size of M. molossus (including juveniles). Box plots represent from bottom to top: minimum, lower quartile, median, upper quartile and maximum. Dots indicate observations further than one SD away from the mean. The numbers of social groups caught per month are indicated above the boxplots
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Multistate mark-recapture model for survival and adult group size in Molossus molossus. Survival estimates Ф for group size categories (small, medium and large) and transition probabilities ѱ between these categories are depicted. For example, the survival probability (from month t to t + 1) in a small group is 0.93 (95 % confidence interval 0.85–0.97), and the probability that a small group will transition to a large group (from month t to t + 1) is 0.12. These parameters were estimated with the multistate mark recapture model with group size including initial state of group size IS[gs] and detection probability P[.] in the model IS[gs]. Ф[gs]. ѱ[gs]. P[.]

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