, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 945-959
Date: 07 May 2013

Perception of individuality in bat vocal communication: discrimination between, or recognition of, interaction partners?

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Different cognitive processes underlying voice identity perception in humans may have precursors in mammals. A perception of vocal signatures may govern individualised interactions in bats, which comprise species living in complex social structures and are nocturnal, fast-moving mammals. This paper investigates to what extent bats recognise, and discriminate between, individual voices and discusses acoustic features relevant for accomplishing these tasks. In spontaneous presentation and habituation–dishabituation experiments, we investigated how Megaderma lyra perceives and evaluates stimuli consisting of contact call series with individual-specific signatures from either social partners or unknown individuals. Spontaneous presentations of contact call stimuli from social partners or unknown individuals elicited strong, but comparable reactions. In the habituation–dishabituation experiments, bats dishabituated significantly to any new stimulus. However, reactions were less pronounced to a novel stimulus from the bat used for habituation than to stimuli from other bats, irrespective of familiarity, which provides evidence for identity discrimination. A model separately assessing the dissimilarity of stimuli in syllable frequencies, syllable durations and inter-call intervals relative to learned memory templates accounted for the behaviour of the bats. With respect to identity recognition, the spontaneous presentation experiments were not conclusive. However, the habituation–dishabituation experiments suggested that the bats recognised voices of social partners as the reaction to a re-habituation stimulus differed after a dishabituation stimulus from a social partner and an unknown bat.