Given their small size and high metabolism, nectar bats need to be able to quickly locate flowers during foraging bouts. Chiropterophilous plants depend on these bats for their reproduction, thus they also benefit if their flowers can be easily located, and we would expect that floral traits such as odor and shape have evolved to maximize detection by bats. However, relatively little is known about the importance of different floral cues during foraging bouts. In the present study, we undertook a set of flight cage experiments with two species of nectar bats (Anoura caudifer and A. geoffroyi) and artificial flowers to compare the importance of shape and scent cues in locating flowers. In a training phase, a bat was presented an artificial flower with a given shape and scent, whose position was constantly shifted to prevent reliance on spatial memory. In the experimental phase, two flowers were presented, one with the training-flower scent and one with the training-flower shape. For each experimental repetition, we recorded which flower was located first, and then shifted flower positions. Additionally, experiments were repeated in a simple environment, without background clutter, or a complex environment, with a background of leaves and branches. Results demonstrate that bats visit either flower indiscriminately with simple backgrounds, with no significant difference in terms of whether they visit the training-flower odor or training-flower shape first. However, in a complex background olfaction was the most important cue; scented flowers were consistently located first. This suggests that for well-exposed flowers, without obstruction from clutter, vision and/or echolocation are sufficient in locating them. In more complex backgrounds, nectar bats depend more heavily on olfaction during foraging bouts.
Muchhala, Nathan and Serrano, Diana, "The Complexity of Background Clutter Affects Nectar Bat Use of Flower Odor and Shape Cues" (2015). Biology Department Faculty Works. 161.
Available at: https://irl.umsl.edu/biology-faculty/161