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      Wild bats briefly decouple sound production from wingbeats to increase sensory flow during prey captures


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          Active sensing animals such as echolocating bats produce the energy with which they probe their environment. The intense echolocation calls of bats are energetically expensive, but their cost can be reduced by synchronizing the exhalations needed to vocalize to wingbeats. Here, we use sound-and-movement recording tags to investigate how wild bats balance efficient sound production with information needs during foraging and navigation. We show that wild bats prioritize energy efficiency over sensory flow when periodic snapshots of the acoustic scene are sufficient during travel and search. Rapid calls during tracking and interception of close prey are decoupled from the wingbeat but are weaker and comprise <2% of all calls during a night of hunting. The limited use of fast sonar sampling provides bats with high information update rates during critical hunting moments but adds little to their overall costs of sound production despite the inefficiency of decoupling calls from wingbeats.

          Graphical abstract


          • Wild bats decouple wingbeats and call emission in short critical phases of hunting

          • These rapid capture calls are more than 30 dB weaker than most other calls

          • Fast sonar calls are vital for hunting but comprise just 2% of all emitted calls

          • High sensory flow when hunting therefore adds little to the cost of sound production


          Biological sciences; Ecology; Environmental science; Ethology; Zoology.

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          Most cited references42

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          Energy as a constraint on the coding and processing of sensory information.

          Neurons use significant amounts of energy to generate signals. Recent studies of retina and brain connect this energy usage to the ability to transmit information. The identification of energy-efficient neural circuits and codes suggests new ways of understanding the function, design and evolution of nervous systems.
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            The echolocation and hunting behavior of Daubenton's bat, Myotis daubentoni

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              Sensory acquisition in active sensing systems.

              A defining feature of active sensing is the use of self-generated energy to probe the environment. Familiar biological examples include echolocation in bats and dolphins and active electrolocation in weakly electric fish. Organisms that utilize active sensing systems can potentially exert control over the characteristics of the probe energy, such as its intensity, direction, timing, and spectral characteristics. This is in contrast to passive sensing systems, which rely on extrinsic energy sources that are not directly controllable by the organism. The ability to control the probe energy adds a new dimension to the task of acquiring relevant information about the environment. Physical and ecological constraints confronted by active sensing systems include issues of signal propagation, attenuation, speed, energetics, and conspicuousness. These constraints influence the type of energy that organisms use to probe the environment, the amount of energy devoted to the process, and the way in which the nervous system integrates sensory and motor functions for optimizing sensory acquisition performance.

                Author and article information

                22 July 2021
                20 August 2021
                22 July 2021
                : 24
                : 8
                [1 ]Zoophysiology, Department of Biology, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
                [2 ]Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
                [3 ]Acoustic and Functional Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Seewiesen, Germany
                Author notes
                []Corresponding author laura.stidsholt@ 123456bio.au.dk

                Lead contact

                S2589-0042(21)00864-6 102896
                © 2021 The Author(s)

                This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).


                biological sciences,ecology,environmental science,ethology,zoology


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