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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

The present research was cleared for implementation by the Internal Research and Review Board, Ethical Clearance, Biosafety and Animal Welfare Committee of Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, and complies with the current laws of India. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. We thank Michael Großbach for programming the stimulus presentation software, as well as statistics modules calculating the Fisher permutation test and transgression probability, and Sönke von den Berg for technical support with the figures. We thank Elke Zimmermann and Sharon Kessler for critically reading an earlier version of this manuscript. This study was supported by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft SCHM 879/6-3 to S. Schmidt.

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Correspondence to Hanna B. Kastein.

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Kastein, H.B., Winter, R., Vinoth Kumar, A.K. et al. Perception of individuality in bat vocal communication: discrimination between, or recognition of, interaction partners?. Anim Cogn 16, 945–959 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0628-9

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Keywords

  • Bats
  • Vocal communication
  • Individual recognition
  • Individual discrimination
  • Social call perception
  • Habituation–dishabituation paradigm