Auditory scene analysis by echolocation in bats

J Acoust Soc Am. 2001 Oct;110(4):2207-26. doi: 10.1121/1.1398051.


Echolocating bats transmit ultrasonic vocalizations and use information contained in the reflected sounds to analyze the auditory scene. Auditory scene analysis, a phenomenon that applies broadly to all hearing vertebrates, involves the grouping and segregation of sounds to perceptually organize information about auditory objects. The perceptual organization of sound is influenced by the spectral and temporal characteristics of acoustic signals. In the case of the echolocating bat, its active control over the timing, duration, intensity, and bandwidth of sonar transmissions directly impacts its perception of the auditory objects that comprise the scene. Here, data are presented from perceptual experiments, laboratory insect capture studies, and field recordings of sonar behavior of different bat species, to illustrate principles of importance to auditory scene analysis by echolocation in bats. In the perceptual experiments, FM bats (Eptesicus fuscus) learned to discriminate between systematic and random delay sequences in echo playback sets. The results of these experiments demonstrate that the FM bat can assemble information about echo delay changes over time, a requirement for the analysis of a dynamic auditory scene. Laboratory insect capture experiments examined the vocal production patterns of flying E. fuscus taking tethered insects in a large room. In each trial, the bats consistently produced echolocation signal groups with a relatively stable repetition rate (within 5%). Similar temporal patterning of sonar vocalizations was also observed in the field recordings from E. fuscus, thus suggesting the importance of temporal control of vocal production for perceptually guided behavior. It is hypothesized that a stable sonar signal production rate facilitates the perceptual organization of echoes arriving from objects at different directions and distances as the bat flies through a dynamic auditory scene. Field recordings of E. fuscus, Noctilio albiventris, N. leporinus, Pippistrellus pippistrellus, and Cormura brevirostris revealed that spectral adjustments in sonar signals may also be important to permit tracking of echoes in a complex auditory scene.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Echolocation / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Social Environment*
  • Sound Spectrography