, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 207-219

Flexible bat echolocation: the influence of individual, habitat and conspecifics on sonar signal design

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Abstract

Acoustic signals which are used in animal communication must carry a variety of information and are therefore highly flexible. Echolocation has probably such functions and could prove as flexible. Measurable variabitlity can indicate flexibility in a behaviour. To quantify variability in bat sonar and relate to behavioural and environmental factors, I recorded echolocation calls of Euderma maculatum, Eptesicus fuscus, Lasiurus borealis and L. cinereus while the bats hunted in their natural habitat. I analysed 3390 search phase calls emitted by 16 known and 16 unknown individuals foraging in different environmental and behvioural situations. All four species used mainly multiharmonic signals that showed considerable intra- and inter-individual variability in the five signal variables I analysed (call duration, call interval, highest and lowest frequency and frequency with maximum energy) and also in the shape of the sonagram. A nested multivariate analysis of variance identified the influences of individual, hunting site, close conspecifics and of each observation on the frequency with maximum energy in the calls, and on other variables measured. Individual bats differed in multiple comparisons, most often in the main call frequency and least often in call interval. In a discriminant function analysis with resubstitution, 56–76% of a species' calls were assigned to the correct individual. Distinct individual call patterns were recorded in special situations in all species and the size of foraging areas in forested areas influenced temporal and spectral call structure. Echolocation behaviour was influenced by the presence of conspecifics. When bats were hunting together, call duration decreased and call interval increased in all species, but spectral effects were less pronounced. The role of morphometric differences as the source of individually distinct vocalizations is discussed. I also examined signal adaptations to long range echolocation and the influence of obstacle distance on echolocation call design. My results allow to discuss the problems of echo recognition and jamming avoidance in vespertilionid bats.

Communicated by G.M. Klump