Persistent producer-scrounger relationships in bats
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Social foraging theory suggests that group-living animals gain from persistent social bonds, which lead to increased tolerance in competitive foraging and information sharing. Bats are among the most social mammals, often living in colonies of tens to thousands of individuals for dozens of years, yet little is known about their social foraging dynamics. We observed three captive bat colonies for over a year, quantifying >13,000 social foraging interactions. We found that individuals consistently used one of two foraging strategies, either producing (collecting) food themselves or scrounging it directly from the mouth of other individuals. Individual foraging types were consistent over at least 16 months except during the lactation period when females shifted toward producing. Scroungers intentionally selected whom to interact with when socially foraging, thus generating persistent nonrandom social relationships with two to three specific producers. These persistent producer-scrounger relationships seem to reduce aggression over time. Finally, scrounging was highly correlated with vigilance, and we hypothesize that vigilant-prone individuals turn to scrounging in the wild to mitigate the risk of landing on a potentially unsafe fruit tree. We find the bat colony to be a rich and dynamic social system, which can serve as a model to study the role that social foraging plays in the evolution of mammalian sociality. Our results highlight the importance of considering individual tendencies when exploring social behavior patterns of group-living animals. These tendencies further emphasize the necessity of studying social networks over time.