Evolution of nocturnality in bats: Potential competitors and predators during their early history



Despite their taxonomic and ecological diversity, modern bats (Order Chiroptera) are almost exclusively nocturnal. This behaviour is too ubiquitous to be explained by common patterns of temporal variation in availability of their diverse food sources or by the risk of hyperthermia when flying during the day. Other explanations for bat nocturnality include competition and increased predation risk from birds during the day. In the early and mid Eocene, the known bat fauna consisted of several insectivorous species of sizes similar to those of the modern European assemblage. This fauna was contemporaneous with several species of predatory birds, including owls (Strigiformes), hawks (Accipitridae), falcons (Falconidae) and rollers (Coraciiformes), which were the same size as modern predators on bats. Predation risk could therefore have been a significant factor preventing the early bats from becoming diurnal. Competition from aerial insectivorous birds, however, was less likely to have been significant for bats during the early Eocene, since very few such groups, mainly small Aegialornithidae, were present, with most of the major groups of aerial insectivores evolving later.