Abstract

AbstractChiroptera is the only mammalian order that has adapted to active flight, offering a unique platform to study ecomorphological adaptations. While bats exhibit a diverse diet, the focus of this study is on insectivorous bats, specifically four species: Myotis daubentonii, Nyctalus noctula, Plecotus austriacus and Rhinolophus ferrumequinum. It is important to note that despite sharing an insectivorous diet, these species occupy different ecological niches, perform distinct feeding strategies and explore varied habitats to capture prey. Using 2‐D geometric morphometrics, we analysed a sample of mandibles to identify differences in size and shape among these species. We also investigated ecogeographical variation within their overlapping distribution across continental Europe. Significant differences in both mandibular size and shape were found among the four species. Sexual dimorphism influenced only the mandibular shape of R. ferrumequinum. A latitudinal gradient in mandibular size was found solely in N. noctula, while longitude significantly explained shape variation in M. daubentonii. These findings suggest that even within the ecological guild of insectivorous bats, there exists a diverse range of morphological adaptations that allow these species to occupy distinct ecological niches.

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