Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 195, Issue 7, pp 663–672 | Cite as

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

  • Simone Janßen
  • Sabine SchmidtEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Acoustic communication Affect cues Bat Evolution of prosody Identity cues 



The behavioural experiments in this study did not require an animal experimentation approval. Permission to keep and breed M. lyra in fulfilment of Sec. 11 Abs. 1, S. 1, No. 1 Tiersch G has been given to the Institute fuer Zoologie der Stiftung Tieraerztliche Hochschule Hannover by the Ordnungsamt, Landeshauptstadt Hannover, Gewerbe- und Veterinaerabteilung, dated 24 March 2003. We would like to thank the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Colombo, Sri Lanka for granting the export license for the bats and our cooperation partner Dr. W. B. Yapa, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, for logistic support. We thank Dr. J. Pillat for programming the stimulus presentation software, B. Seidl and M. Doerrie for analysing the natural contact calls and S. Schierbaum for generating the synthetic syllables, which we combined for the present stimuli.


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© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of ZoologyUniversity of Veterinary Medicine HanoverHanoverGermany

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