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Isotopic Data Do Not Support Food Sharing Within Large Networks of Female Vampire Bats (Desmodus rotundus)


Christian C. Voigt, Evolutionary Ecology Research Group, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Alfred-Kowalke-Str. 17, 10315 Berlin, Germany.


Reciprocal altruism is considered to be particularly stable when occurring in small networks. Using a stable isotope approach, we tested in colonies of vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) whether food sharing occurs among few or many females; vampires are known to regurgitate recently ingested blood for starving conspecifics. Accordingly, the isotopic signatures of vampires depend not only on individual prey choice but also on the extent of food sharing among isotopically contrasting conspecifics. By measuring the stable carbon isotope ratio in tissues with varying isotopic retention in individual vampires (blood: approx. 2 wk; wing membrane tissue: approx. 2 mo; fur: >6 mo), we estimated the variation in the percentages of carbon derived from pasture (via blood from cattle and horses). We expected to find narrow ranges of percentages in individual vampires, because we anticipated food sharing only within small female networks if food sharing happened at all. Overall, vampire bats obtained 79.2 ± 12.3% of carbon from grazers. The range of percentages was small within the majority of individuals in relation to that across all individuals, suggesting that most vampires were isotopic specialists. We expected females to be more isotopically generalistic than males, as food sharing was observed to occur more often between females than between males. Indeed, stable isotope evidence suggested that more females obtained carbon from isotopically contrasting sources than males. This pattern is consistent with food sharing in small groups of female vampires, provided that food sharing occurred at all.