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Abstract

In many social animals, group members exchange information about where to feed. Thereby, they may gain direct benefits, for example, if social hunting enhances individual foraging success. Alternatively, individuals may receive indirect fitness benefits by preferentially sharing information about suitable feeding sites with kin. Indeed, in some species, a positive correlation between the degree of relatedness among individuals and the overlap among their foraging areas was found. However, sharing foraging sites with kin can also have costs if it increases food competition, which is not compensated by direct benefits. The goal of this study was to investigate whether sharing of individual foraging areas in female Bechstein's bats is best explained by kin selection or by direct benefits through social foraging. To assess their individual foraging behaviour, we analysed radio-tracking data of 22 members of one maternity colony, including nine mother–daughter pairs, seven pairs of less closely related individuals and six pairs of unrelated bats. We examined the bats' fidelity to specific foraging areas during several years and quantified the influence of kinship on the overlap among individual foraging areas. By measuring how close to each other the bats foraged, we assessed whether individuals with overlapping areas are likely to forage together. Our study confirms previous findings that Bechstein's bats show high fidelity to foraging areas across years. Moreover, we found that relatives share foraging areas significantly more often compared with unrelated colony members. Finally, our data reveal for the first time that most colony members that share foraging areas are unlikely to forage together. This suggests that female Bechstein's bats gain no direct benefits from sharing foraging areas with members of the same maternal lineage. Our findings also have implications for conservation as habitat loss within a colony's home range might expose entire matrilines to high risks.