Ecomorphological studies of bat communities often reveal the spatial and temporal coexistence of morphologically similar species, leading to suggestions that these communities are structured by non-deterministic processes. However, the diversification of echolocation call structure in bats allows for considerable morphological similarity while still permitting niche differentiation based on specialisation for prey type and habitat structure. The recent separation of a common Palaearctic bat, the pipistrelle, into Pipistrellus pipistrellus and P. pygmaeus, which are sympatrically distributed throughout their range, raises the question as to whether these two morphologically similar species partition resources in time and space.
To test the hypothesis that the coexistence of these cryptic species is facilitated by differential habitat use, 14 P. pipistrellus, and 12 P. pygmaeus were radio-tracked from adjacent maternity roosts, in northeast Scotland, from May to September 2002/2003. The two species showed distinct habitat partitioning with P. pygmaeus foraging predominantly in riparian woodland and over water, and P. pipistrellus foraging along woodland edges and short isolated tree lines. Inter-specific overlap in habitat use was low and consequently foraging ranges were segregated spatially.
The degree of habitat partitioning revealed in these species, which show considerable overlap in echolocation call parameters and functional morphology, suggests that morphological features, whilst useful in separating chiropteran species into coarse-grained foraging guilds, may not predict fine-grained ecological segregation.