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Dietary and body mass reconstruction of the Miocene neotropical bat Notonycteris magdalenensis (Phyllostomidae) from La Venta, Colombia

By Camilo Lopez-Aguirre, Nicholas J Czaplewski, Andres Link, Masanaru Takai, Suzanne Hand

Posted 10 Dec 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.09.418491

The middle Miocene La Venta bat fauna is the most diverse bat palaeocommunity in South America, with at least 14 species recorded. They include the oldest plant-visiting bat in the New World, and some of the earliest representatives of the extant families Phyllostomidae, Thyropteridae and Noctilionidae. Notonycteris magdalenensis from La Venta is an extinct member of the subfamily Phyllostominae, a group of modern Neotropical animalivorous and omnivorous bats, and is commonly included in studies of the evolution of Neotropical bats, but aspects of its biology remain unclear. In this study, we used a multivariate dental topography analysis (DTA) to reconstruct the likely diet of N. magdalenensis by quantitatively comparing measures of molar complexity with that of 25 modern phyllostomid and noctilionid species representing all major dietary habits in bats. We found clear differences in molar complexity between dietary guilds, indicating that DTA is potentially an informative tool to study bat ecomorphology. Our results suggest N. magdalenensis was probably an omnivore or insectivore, rather than a carnivore like its modern relatives Chrotopterus auritus and Vampryum spectrum. Also, we reconstructed the body mass of N. magdalenensis to be ~50 g, which is larger than most insectivorous bats, but smaller than most carnivorous bats. Our results confirm that Notonycteris magdalenensis was probably not a specialised carnivore. It remains to be demonstrated that the specialised carnivory ecological niche was occupied by the same lineage of phyllostomines from at least the middle Miocene. Combining our diet and body mass reconstructions, we suggest that N. magdalenensis exhibits morphological pre-adaptations crucial for the evolution of specialised carnivory.

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