, Volume 195, Issue 7, pp 663-672
Date: 23 Apr 2009

Evidence for a perception of prosodic cues in bat communication: contact call classification by Megaderma lyra

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Abstract

The perception of prosodic cues in human speech may be rooted in mechanisms common to mammals. The present study explores to what extent bats use rhythm and frequency, typically carrying prosodic information in human speech, for the classification of communication call series. Using a two-alternative, forced choice procedure, we trained Megaderma lyra to discriminate between synthetic contact call series differing in frequency, rhythm on level of calls and rhythm on level of call series, and measured the classification performance for stimuli differing in only one, or two, of the above parameters. A comparison with predictions from models based on one, combinations of two, or all, parameters revealed that the bats based their decision predominantly on frequency and in addition on rhythm on the level of call series, whereas rhythm on level of calls was not taken into account in this paradigm. Moreover, frequency and rhythm on the level of call series were evaluated independently. Our results show that parameters corresponding to prosodic cues in human languages are perceived and evaluated by bats. Thus, these necessary prerequisites for a communication via prosodic structures in mammals have evolved far before human speech.