Sensory-based niche partitioning in a multiple predator–multiple prey community
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Many predators and parasites eavesdrop on the communication signals of their prey. Eavesdropping is typically studied as dyadic predator-prey species interactions; yet in nature, most predators target multiple prey species and most prey must evade multiple predator species. The impact of predator communities on prey signal evolution is not well understood. Predators could converge in their preferences for conspicuous signal properties, generating competition among predators and natural selection on particular prey signal features. Alternatively, predator species could vary in their preferences for prey signal properties, resulting in sensory-based niche partitioning of prey resources. In the Neotropics, many substrate-gleaning bats use the mate-attraction songs of male katydids to locate them as prey. We studied mechanisms of niche partitioning in four substrate-gleaning bat species and found they are similar in morphology, echolocation signal design and prey-handling ability, but each species preferred different acoustic features of male song in 12 sympatric katydid species. This divergence in predator preference probably contributes to the coexistence of many substrate-gleaning bat species in the Neotropics, and the substantial diversity in the mate-attraction signals of katydids. Our results provide insight into how multiple eavesdropping predator species might influence prey signal evolution through sensory-based niche partitioning.
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