Sensory drive mediated by climatic gradients partially explains divergence in acoustic signals in two horseshoe bat species, Rhinolophus swinnyi and Rhinolophus simulator

Journal Article


Journal Title

PLoS One

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Public Library of Science


University of Cape Town

Geographic variation can be an indicator of still poorly understood evolutionary processes such as adaptation and drift. Sensory systems used in communication play a key role in mate choice and species recognition. Habitat-mediated (i.e. adaptive) differences in communication signals may therefore lead to diversification. We investigated geographic variation in echolocation calls of African horseshoe bats, Rhinolophus simulator and R . swinnyi in the context of two adaptive hypotheses: 1) James' Rule and 2) the Sensory Drive Hypothesis. According to James' Rule body-size should vary in response to relative humidity and temperature so that divergence in call frequency may therefore be the result of climate-mediated variation in body size because of the correlation between body size and call frequency. The Sensory Drive Hypothesis proposes that call frequency is a response to climate-induced differences in atmospheric attenuation and predicts that increases in atmospheric attenuation selects for calls of lower frequency. We measured the morphology and resting call frequency (RF) of 111 R . simulator and 126 R . swinnyi individuals across their distributional range to test the above hypotheses. Contrary to the prediction of James' Rule, divergence in body size could not explain the variation in RF. Instead, acoustic divergence in RF was best predicted by latitude, geography and climate-induced differences in atmospheric attenuation, as predicted by the Sensory Drive Hypothesis. Although variation in RF was strongly influenced by temperature and humidity, other climatic variables (associated with latitude and altitude) as well as drift (as suggested by a positive correlation between call variation and geographic distance, especially in R . simulator ) may also play an important role.