Assessing niche partitioning of co-occurring sibling bat species by DNA metabarcoding.Mol Ecol 2018; 27(5):1273-1283ME
Niche partitioning through foraging is a mechanism likely involved in facilitating the coexistence of ecologically similar and co-occurring animal species by separating their use of resources. Yet, this mechanism is not well understood in flying insectivorous animals. This is particularly true of bats, where many ecologically similar or cryptic species coexist. The detailed analysis of the foraging niche in sympatric, cryptic sibling species provides an excellent framework to disentangle the role of specific niche factors likely involved in facilitating coexistence. We used DNA metabarcoding to determine the prey species consumed by a population of sympatric sibling Rhinolophus euryale and Rhinolophus mehelyi whose use of habitat in both sympatric and allopatric ranges has been well established through radio tracking. Although some subtle dietary differences exist in prey species composition, the diet of both bats greatly overlapped (Ojk = 0.83) due to the consumption of the same common and widespread moths. Those dietary differences we did detect might be related to divergences in prey availabilities among foraging habitats, which prior radio tracking on the same population showed are differentially used and selected when both species co-occur. This minor dietary segregation in sympatry may be the result of foraging on the same prey-types and could contribute to reduce potential competitive interactions (e.g., for prey, acoustic space). Our results highlight the need to evaluate the spatial niche dimension in mediating the co-occurrence of similar insectivorous bat species, a niche factor likely involved in processes of bat species coexistence.