Orientation and navigation in bats: known unknowns or unknown unknowns?

Abstract

Bats have been extensively studied with regard to their ability to orient, navigate and hunt prey by means of echolocation, but almost nothing is known about how they orient and navigate in situations such as migration and homing outside the range of their echolocation system. As volant animals, bats face many of the same problems and challenges as birds. Migrating bats must relocate summer and winter home ranges over distances as far as 2,000 km. Foraging bats must be able to relocate their home roost if they range beyond a familiar area, and indeed circumstantial evidence suggests that these animals can home from more than 600 km. However, an extensive research program on homing and navigation in bats halted in the early 1970s. The field of bird navigation has advanced greatly since that time and many of the mechanisms that birds are known to use for navigation were not known or widely accepted at this time. In this paper I discuss what is known about orientation and navigation in bats and use bird navigation as a model for future research in bat navigation. Technology is advancing such that previous difficulties in studying orientation in bats in the field can be overcome and so that the mechanisms of navigation in this highly mobile animal can finally be elucidated.

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Acknowledgements

Isabelle Bisson, Melissa Bowlin, Kasper Thorup and Martin Wikelski provided helpful comments on the manuscript. Support was from Marie Curie Outgoing International Fellowship MOIF-CT-2005-021508, administered by the University of Leeds.

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Correspondence to Richard A. Holland.

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Communicated by W. Wiltschko

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Holland, R.A. Orientation and navigation in bats: known unknowns or unknown unknowns?. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 61, 653–660 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-006-0297-7

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Keywords

  • Navigation
  • Orientation
  • Bats
  • Map
  • Compass