Bayesian hierarchical models suggest oldest known plant-visiting bat was omnivorous


The earliest record of plant visiting in bats dates to the Middle Miocene of La Venta, the world’s most diverse tropical palaeocommunity. Palynephyllum antimaster is known from molars that indicate nectarivory. Skull length, an important indicator of key traits such as body size, bite force and trophic specialization, remains unknown. We developed Bayesian models to infer skull length based on dental measurements. These models account for variation within and between species, variation between clades, and phylogenetic error structure. Models relating skull length to trophic level for nectarivorous bats were then used to infer the diet of the fossil. The skull length estimate for Palynephyllum places it among the larger lonchophylline bats. The inferred diet suggests Palynephyllum fed on nectar and insects, similar to its living relatives. Omnivory has persisted since the mid-Miocene. This is the first study to corroborate with fossil data that highly specialized nectarivory in bats requires an omnivorous transition.

Biology Letters 11(11), 1-5
Liliana M. Dávalos
Liliana M. Dávalos
Professor of Conservation Biology

I’m interested in how biology and the environment shape biodiversity in time and space.