• chemical ecology;
  • Chiroptera;
  • co-evolution;
  • foraging behaviour;
  • olfaction;
  • Phyllostomidae;
  • Pteropodidae;
  • scent;
  • seed dispersal syndromes;
  • terpenes


  1. Frugivory among bats (Chiroptera) has evolved independently in the New and Old World tropics: within the families Phyllostomidae and Pteropodidae, respectively. Bats from both families rely primarily on olfaction for the location of fruits. However, the influence of bats on the evolution of fruit scent is almost completely unknown.
  2. Using the genus Ficus as a model, the aims of this study were to explore the chemical composition of fruit scent in relation to two contrasting seed dispersal syndromes in Panama and Malaysia and to assess the influence of fruit scent on the foraging behaviour of neo- and palaeotropical fruit-eating bats (Artibeus jamaicensis and Cynopterus brachyotis, respectively). Two hypotheses were tested: (i) variation in fruit scent, between bat- and bird-dispersed figs, is independent of phylogeny and (ii) Old and New World fruit bats, which have evolved independently in each hemisphere, share the same olfactory preferences with respect to fruit scent.
  3. The fruit scents of bat- and bird-dispersed fig species were sampled in the field, using dynamic headspace adsorption techniques. New and Old World fruit bats were then captured and tested on natural fig fruit scents from both hemispheres.
  4. Chemical analyses, using gas chromatography (GC) and GC/mass spectrometry (MS), revealed a broad overlap in scent compounds between bat-dispersed fig species from both hemispheres. Their fruit scents were dominated by monoterpenes, which contrary to phylogenetic predictions, were completely absent from bird-dispersed species from both regions.
  5. The fruit scents of bat-dispersed figs were highly attractive to neotropical bats (A. jamaicensis) in behavioural experiments, whereas those of bird-dispersed figs were completely rejected. Neotropical bats (A. jamaicensis) exhibited a significant preference for fig fruit scents dominated by monoterpenes, independent of the geographical origin of the scent. Palaeotropical bats (C. brachyotis), by contrast, rejected monoterpene-rich fruit scents from the Neotropics.
  6. In a cluster analysis (which included additional, published data from the literature), the fruit scents of bat-dispersed figs were clumped by subgenus, with the exception of palaeotropical figs of the subgenus Sycomorus. C. brachyotis, from Malaysia, was the only fruit bat species that significantly preferred the fruit scents of Sycomorus figs that contained no monoterpenes.