Geographic variation of contact calls suggest distinct modes of vocal transmission in a leaf-roosting bat

  • B. Karina MonteroEmail author
  • Maria Sagot
  • Caleb D. Phillips
  • Robert J. Baker
  • Erin H. Gillam
Original Article


Populations that have historically been isolated from each other are expected to differ in some heritable features. This divergence could be due to drift (and other mechanisms of neutral evolution) or differential adaptation of populations to local conditions. Discriminating between these two evolutionary trajectories can be difficult, but when possible, such data provides critical insight into the evolutionary history of a species. Here, we examine the patterns of geographic variation of two contact signals regularly produced by disc-winged bats, Thyroptera tricolor, and discuss possible processes leading to the observed patterns of differentiation. We compared allopatric populations separated by an elevational barrier, and estimated genetic distance using nuclear microsatellite loci. Our findings revealed that the mountain ridge is permeable to gene flow. Acoustic divergence was significantly explained by genetic and spatial factors, supporting the notion that stochastic factors are the main drivers of signal divergence. Yet, we found different patterns of geographic variation between the two types of calls. We examine how this variability in the patterns of acoustic divergence may suggest distinct modes of signal transmission within and between populations (i.e., social vs genetic transmission). This work provides further support of the role of random change shaping communication systems in mammals, and highlights the importance of studying multiple elements of a species repertoire to evaluate the underlying processes driving signal evolution.

Significance statement

Despite increasing interest in studying patterns of acoustic divergence, the relative contribution of adaptive and stochastic processes underlying variation of acoustic signals remain poorly understood, particularly in mammals. Our study examines signal divergence in Spix’s disc-winged bats, Thyoptera tricolor, with the goal of understanding the underlying processes driving signal evolution. Specifically, we studied whether the patterns of geographic variation of two social signals regularly emitted by T. tricolor are congruent with patterns of genetic distance among populations separated by a geographic barrier. We demonstrate that genetic and spatial distance explains acoustic variation, which points to stochastic processes as major drivers of signal divergence in T. tricolor. Notably, we found that the patterns of geographic variation differ between the two types of calls studied. We suggest that this variation results from distinct modes of vocal transmission within populations. Comparison of different signal types provides additional insight of social pressures shaping call design.


Contact calls Thyroptera tricolor Geographic barrier Vocal divergence Signal evolution Population genetic structure 



We are indebted to Corcovado and Tortuguero National Park rangers and Aguilar family for housing and support in the field. We thank Genuar Núñez and Jairo Moya for assistance in the field, and Julian Schmid, Jackie Wrage, and Nicholas Johnson for their valuable help in video analysis. We would like to thank Gerald Wilkinson and two anonymous reviewers for their input on previous versions of the manuscript.


This research was supported by the National Science Foundation Grant # HRD-0811239 to the NDSU Advance FORWARD program, start-up funds from the Department of Biological Sciences and College of Science and Mathematics at NDSU (EHG), Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research Program (BKM), and the NDSU graduate school dissertation fellowship (BKM).

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This study was approved by the Costa Rican authorities (MINAE; SINAC; reference no. ATM-ACOSA-001-01, 034-2012; CONAGEBIO, reference no. R003-2011-OT) and by the NDSU Animal Care and Use Committee (Protocol no. A11022, A12052).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2018_2543_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (299 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 298 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biozentrum Grindel, Animal Ecology and ConservationHamburg UniversityHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation GenomicsUniversity of UlmUlmGermany
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesState University of New York at OswegoNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  5. 5.Natural Science Research LaboratoryThe Museum of Texas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  6. 6.Department of Biological SciencesNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA

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