Bats make up one of the largest groups of mammals, with more than 1,300 species worldwide. Up close, bat species look quite different from one another. Some have large ears; others sport elaborate noses or long jaws. With so much morphological variety, bats represent an opportunity to learn what types of evolutionary forces shape the shapes of animals. A team of biologists has been using bats to do just that, by focusing on diversity among bat skulls. The researchers performed high-resolution microCT scans of the skulls of more than 200 bat species. They used the scans as well as information on the evolutionary relationships among bat species to analyze the types of physical changes that evolved in bat skulls over tens of millions of years and correlate them with specific events in bat evolution, such as when a lineage switched diets or adapted to a new ecological niche. They report that two major forces have shaped bat skulls over their evolutionary history: echolocation and diet. They were even able to determine when in bat history these forces were dominant.
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