Nitrogen and amino acids in nectar modify food selection of nectarivorous bats



  1. Chiropterophilic flowers secrete sugar nectar with low-Nitrogen (N hereafter) content and small amounts of amino acids, which may function to attract animals; nevertheless, the role that micronutrients have on the foraging decisions of Neotropical nectarivorous bats is unknown.
  2. We offered the nectar specialist Leptonycteris yerbabueanae and the omnivore Glossophaga soricina pairs of experimental diets mimicking either the N content or the relative abundance of 17 amino acids found in the floral nectar from the main plant species visited by these bats in a tropical dry forest. We addressed the following research questions: (i) Do bats select N-containing or sugar-only nectar differently based on bats' N nutritional status? (ii) Does the presence of N in nectar affect the capacity of bats to discriminate and select other nectar traits such as sugar concentration? and (iii) Are bats able to distinguish among the flavours generated by the amino acid relative abundance present in the nectar from plants they typically encounter in nature?
  3. Our results showed that: (i) bats did not consider nectar N content regardless of their N nutritional condition, (ii) the nectar specialist L. yerbabuenae showed a preference for the most concentrated sugar-only nectar but changed to be indifferent when nectar contained N, and (iii) L. yerbabuenae preferred diets without amino acids and preferred the taste of the amino acids present in the nectar of Pachycereus pecten (Cactaceae) over those present in the nectar of Ceiba aesculifolia (Bombacaceae).
  4. Our results suggest that regardless of the low concentrations at which N and amino acids are present in floral nectar, their presence affects bats' food selection by interfering with the bats' ability to detect differences in sugar concentrations, and by offering particular flavours that can be perceived and selected by nectarivorous bats. We discuss the ecological implications of the presence of N and amino acids in nectar on bats' foraging decisions.