Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 11, pp 1867–1874 | Cite as

Dynamic adjustment of biosonar intensity to habitat clutter in the bat Macrophyllum macrophyllum (Phyllostomidae)

  • Signe BrinkløvEmail author
  • Elisabeth K. V. Kalko
  • Annemarie Surlykke
Original Paper


Echolocating bats adjust the time–frequency structure such as sweep rate and pulse interval of their sonar calls when they move from open space to vegetation-dense environments. Emitted call intensity is equally important for echolocation, but adjustment of signal intensity to different habitats has never been systematically studied in any bat species. To address this question, we recorded sonar calls of the Neotropical trawling insectivorous bat Macrophyllum macrophyllum (Phyllostomidae) at three sites with different obstacle densities (clutter). We found a clear correlation between emitted intensity and degree of clutter, with intensity proportional to decreasing clutter. In highly cluttered, semicluttered, and open spaces, M. macrophyllum emitted calls with mean source levels (sound pressure level (SPL) 10 cm from the bat’s mouth) of 100, 105, and 111 dB SPL root mean square (rms), respectively. To our knowledge, this is the first documentation of dynamic intensity adjustments in bats. Phyllostomid bats were previously considered silent, but the 111-dB SPL rms emitted by free-ranging M. macrophyllum in open space is comparable to output in aerial insectivorous bats from other families. Our results suggest that the acoustic constraints of habitats are better predictors of call intensity than phylogeny and therefore likely to be major drivers shaping the sonar system of bats in the course of evolution.


Source level Biosonar intensity Phyllostomidae Bat Echolocation 



Sound pressure level


Source level



Research was funded by the Danish Natural Science Research foundation (to A. S. and S. B.), the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (fellowship support of A.S.), and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and the German Science Foundation (DFG; to E.K.V.K.). We thank Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard and John Ratcliffe for comments on previous manuscript versions and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. We also thank Christian Brandt for positioning software, Ulrik Nørum for help with statistic analysis, and STRI and Isla Barro Colorado staff for excellent research facilities. Research complied with laws of Panamá and IACUC regulations of STRI.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Signe Brinkløv
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elisabeth K. V. Kalko
    • 2
    • 3
  • Annemarie Surlykke
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of BiologyUniversity of Southern DenmarkOdense MDenmark
  2. 2.Institute of Experimental EcologyUniversity of UlmUlmGermany
  3. 3.Smithsonian Tropical Research InstituteBalboaRepublic of Panama

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