Background Most tropical and subtropical plants are biotically pollinated, and insects are the major pollinators. A small but ecologically and economically important group of plants classified in 28 orders, 67 families and about 528 species of angiosperms are pollinated by nectar-feeding bats. From a phylogenetic perspective this is a derived pollination mode involving a relatively large and energetically expensive pollinator. Here its ecological and evolutionary consequences are explored.
Scope and Conclusions This review summarizes adaptations in bats and plants that facilitate this interaction and discusses the evolution of bat pollination from a plant phylogenetic perspective. Two families of bats contain specialized flower visitors, one in the Old World and one in the New World. Adaptation to pollination by bats has evolved independently many times from a variety of ancestral conditions, including insect-, bird- and non-volant mammal-pollination. Bat pollination predominates in very few families but is relatively common in certain angiosperm subfamilies and tribes. We propose that flower-visiting bats provide two important benefits to plants: they deposit large amounts of pollen and a variety of pollen genotypes on plant stigmas and, compared with many other pollinators, they are long-distance pollen dispersers. Bat pollination tends to occur in plants that occur in low densities and in lineages producing large flowers. In highly fragmented tropical habitats, nectar bats play an important role in maintaining the genetic continuity of plant populations and thus have considerable conservation value.