Non-kin cooperation in bats


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Publication Date

January 2016


Many bats are extremely social. In some cases, individuals remain together for years or even decades and engage in mutually beneficial behaviours among non-related individuals. Here, we summarize ways in which unrelated bats cooperate while roosting, foraging, feeding or caring for offspring. For each situation, we ask if cooperation involves an investment, and if so, what mechanisms might ensure a return. While some cooperative outcomes are likely a by-product of selfish behaviour as they are in many other vertebrates, we explain how cooperative investments can occur in several situations and are particularly evident in food sharing among common vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) and alloparental care by greater spear-nosed bats (Phyllostomus hastatus). Fieldwork and experiments on vampire bats indicate that sharing blood with non-kin expands the number of possible donors beyond kin and promotes reciprocal help by strengthening long-term social bonds. Similarly, more than 25 years of recapture data and field observations of greater spear-nosed bats reveal multiple cooperative investments occurring within stable groups of non-kin. These studies illustrate how bats can serve as models for understanding how cooperation is regulated in social vertebrates.


Vampire Bats, Spear-Nosed Bats, By-Product Mutualism, Group Augmentation, Partner Choice, Reciprocity

Document Type



Philosophical Transactions of the royal society B, Vol. 371, no. 1687 (2016).