Connecting behaviour and performance: the evolution of biting behaviour and bite performance in bats


Sharlene E. Santana, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.
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Variation in behaviour, performance and ecology are traditionally associated with variation in morphology. A neglected part of this ecomorphological paradigm is the interaction between behaviour and performance, the ability to carry out tasks that impact fitness. Here we investigate the relationship between biting behaviour and performance (bite force) among 20 species of ecologically diverse bats. We studied the patterns of evolution of plasticity in biting behaviour and bite force, and reconstructed ancestral states for behaviour and its plasticity. Both behavioural and performance plasticity exhibited accelerating evolution over time, and periods of rapid evolution coincided with major dietary shifts from insect-feeding to plant-feeding. We found a significant, positive correlation between behavioural plasticity and bite force. Bats modulated their performance by changing their biting behaviour to maximize bite force when feeding on hard foods. The ancestor of phyllostomids was likely a generalist characterized by high behavioural plasticity, a condition that also evolved in specialized frugivores and potentially contributed to their diversification.