DNA Testing Links Habitat Quality to Diet in Bats

New DNA testing technology has allowed scientists to compare the diets of bats consuming food from agricultural environments versus those of bats consuming food from conservation environments. The results indicate that bats feeding in agricultural environments have more restricted diets than do bats feeding in conservation environments. Working at three sites in Southern Ontario (Canada) the research team of students and scientists monitored the diet of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) from colonies living on agricultural land and at a conservation site. Guano (bat feces) was continually collected under each roost from May to August. Back in the lab at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario in Canada, the team extracted insect DNA from the material and sequenced a "DNA barcode" which is a small region of DNA that can be used to identify animal species. The team then matched these unknown insect sequences in bat guano to a library of known sequences to identify which insect prey the bats were eating. "This technology is very new," said lead author Dr. Elizabeth Clare of the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences. "It gives us an entirely new insight into the bats' behavior. Instead of just finding they ate a moth or a mayfly, we now know exactly what species of insect it was, providing us with important information on their habitat." Using this technique, the team found that the bats rely heavily on insects from aquatic environments. They were also able to identify the exact species of insect prey, which revealed that different colonies exploit different source water, sometimes rivers and streams, sometimes ponds, depending on the local landscape. "Some of the insects they eat come from very specific habitats and have specific pollution tolerances.
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