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Effect of acoustic clutter on prey detection by bats


Bats that capture animal prey from substrates often emit characteristic echolocation calls that are short-duration, frequency-modulated (FM) and broadband1. Such calls seem to be suited to locating prey in uncluttered habitats, including flying prey, but may be less effective for finding prey among cluttered backgrounds because echoes reflecting from the substrate mask the acoustic signature of prey2,3,4. Perhaps these call designs serve primarily for spatial orientation5,6,7. Furthermore, it has been unclear whether the acoustic image conveyed by FM echoes enables fine texture discrimination3,8,9, or whether gleaning bats that forage in echo-cluttering environments must locate prey by using other cues, such as prey-generated sounds5,6,7,10,11,12,13. Here we show that two species of insectivorous gleaning bats perform badly when compelled to detect silent and immobile prey in clutter, but are very efficient at capturing noisy prey items among highly cluttered backgrounds, and both dead or live prey in uncluttered habitats. These findings suggest that the short, broadband FM echolocation calls associated with gleaning bats are not adapted to detecting prey in clutter.

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Figure 1: Experiments on foraging cues for experiments 1–3.
Figure 2: Experiments on foraging performance (a, b, under infrared illumination), and recordings of echolocation calls (c).

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We thank L. Delaloye, S. Parsons and K. Zbinden for assistance. R.A. was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation, a research grant from the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, and a grant from the Vaud Academic Society. G.J. was funded by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. We thank M. B. Fenton and J. Rydell for comments.

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Correspondence to Raphaël Arlettaz.

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Arlettaz, R., Jones, G. & Racey, P. Effect of acoustic clutter on prey detection by bats. Nature 414, 742–745 (2001).

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