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Brevity is prevalent in bat short-range communication


Animal communication follows many coding schemes. Less is known about the coding strategy for signal length and rates of use in animal vocal communication. A generalized brevity (negative relation between signal length and frequency of use) is innovatively explored but remains controversial in animal vocal communication. We tested brevity for short-range social and distress sounds from four echolocating bats: adult black-bearded tomb bat Taphozous melanopogon, Mexican free-tailed bat Tadarida brasiliensis, adult greater horseshoe bat Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, and adult least horseshoe bat Rhinolophus pusillus. There was a negative association between duration and number of social but not distress calls emitted. The most frequently emitted social calls were brief, while most distress calls were long. Brevity or lengthiness was consistently selected in vocal communications for each species. Echolocating bats seem to have convergent coding strategy for communication calls. The results provide the evidence of efficient coding in bat social vocalizations, and lay the basis of future researches on the convergence for neural control on bats’ communication calls.

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Fig. 1



Low-duty cycle


High-duty cycle


Arched frequency modulation


Downward ripple frequency modulation


Fixed ripple frequency modulation


Bent downward frequency modulation


Downward frequency modulation


Quasi humped frequency modulation


Noise burst


Double arched frequency modulation


Sinusoidal frequency modulation


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The experimental procedures were approved by the department of wildlife administration in Lai bin (Guangxi, P. R. China) and Ping tan (Fujian, P. R. China). We are grateful to Prof. Shuangwei Wang and Dr Guanjun Lu for their assistance in field experiments. We acknowledge M. Brock Fenton, Gerald G. Carter, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable advices and comments on the manuscript. The research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 31030011, 30900166, 31100280) and the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central University (Grant No. 10SSXT001).

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Correspondence to Ying Liu or Jiang Feng.

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Luo, B., Jiang, T., Liu, Y. et al. Brevity is prevalent in bat short-range communication. J Comp Physiol A 199, 325–333 (2013).

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  • Brevity
  • Bat
  • Social communication
  • Distress call
  • Short-range