Sensory divergence among populations of a southern African endemic horseshoe bat (Chiroptera: Rhinolophidae ): a multidisciplinary approach

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

A fundamental goal of evolutionary biology is to understand how natural selection, random genetic drift and gene flow interact to promote adaptive trait divergence within species. Environmental gradients are ideal opportunities for disentangling the relative effects of selection and gene flow in promoting local adaptation among populations experiencing different selective regimes. In this study a multidisciplinary approach combining the methods of sensory ecology, functional morphology, population genetics and functional genetics was used to explore the relative roles of neutral and adaptive processes in the evolution of sensory divergence in Cape horseshoe bats, Rhinolophus capensis. Geographic variation in echolocation resting frequencies (RFs) in this species is characterised by increasing frequency from west (75.7 kHz: xeric habitats) to east (86 kHz: mesic habitats) across their distribution in South Africa. Here the species is found across a wide range of habitats characterised by a gradient of increasing vegetation clutter from xeric habitats in the west, to mesic habitats in the east. To better understand how selection contributes to the evolution of RF variation in R. capensis, the relationships between RF and different ecological and morphological correlates of echolocation frequency were explored.