Only recently data on bat echolocation call intensities is starting to accumulate. Yet, intensity is an ecologically crucial parameter, as it determines the extent of the bats' perceptual space and, specifically, prey detection distance. Interspecifically, we thus asked whether sympatric, congeneric bat species differ in call intensities and whether differences play a role for niche differentiation. Specifically, we investigated whether R. mehelyi that calls at a frequency clearly above what is predicted by allometry, compensates for frequency-dependent loss in detection distance by using elevated call intensity. Maximum echolocation call intensities might depend on body size or condition and thus be used as an honest signal of quality for intraspecific communication. We for the first time investigated whether a size-intensity relation is present in echolocating bats.
We measured maximum call intensities and frequencies for all five European horseshoe bat species. Maximum intensity differed among species largely due to R. euryale. Furthermore, we found no compensation for frequency-dependent loss in detection distance in R. mehelyi. Intraspecifically, there is a negative correlation between forearm lengths and intensity in R. euryale and a trend for a negative correlation between body condition index and intensity in R. ferrumequinum. In R. hipposideros, females had 8 dB higher intensities than males. There were no correlations with body size or sex differences and intensity for the other species.
Based on call intensity and frequency measurements, we estimated echolocation ranges for our study community. These suggest that intensity differences result in different prey detection distances and thus likely play some role for resource access.
It is interesting and at first glance counter-intuitive that, where a correlation was found, smaller bats called louder than large individuals. Such negative relationship between size or condition and vocal amplitude may indicate an as yet unknown physiological or sexual selection pressure.