Title

Drinking and Flying: Does Alcohol Consumption Affect the Flight and Echolocation Performance of Phyllostomid Bats?

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2-1-2010

Journal

PLoS ONE

Volume

5

Issue

2

First Page

8993

Last Page

8993

URL with Digital Object Identifier

http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0008993

Abstract

BACKGROUND: In the wild, frugivorous and nectarivorous bats often eat fermenting fruits and nectar, and thus may consume levels of ethanol that could induce inebriation. To understand if consumption of ethanol by bats alters their access to food and general survival requires examination of behavioural responses to its ingestion, as well as assessment of interspecific variation in those responses. We predicted that bats fed ethanol would show impaired flight and echolocation behaviour compared to bats fed control sugar water, and that there would be behavioural differences among species.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We fed wild caught Artibeus jamaicensis, A. lituratus, A. phaeotis, Carollia sowelli, Glossophaga soricina, and Sturnira lilium (Chiroptera, Phyllostomidae) sugar water (44 g of table sugar in 500 ml of water) or sugar water with ethanol before challenging them to fly through an obstacle course while we simultaneously recorded their echolocation calls. We used bat saliva, a non-invasive proxy, to measure blood ethanol concentrations ranging from 0 to >0.3% immediately before flight trials. Flight performance and echolocation behaviour were not significantly affected by consumption of ethanol, but species differed in their blood alcohol concentrations after consuming it.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The bats we studied display a tolerance for ethanol that could have ramifications for the adaptive radiation of frugivorous and nectarivorous bats by allowing them to use ephemeral food resources over a wide span of time. By sampling across phyllostomid genera, we show that patterns of apparent ethanol tolerance in New World bats are broad, and thus may have been an important early step in the evolution of frugivory and nectarivory in these animals.