Convergence of temporal and spectral information into acoustic images of complex sonar targets perceived by the echolocating bat, Eptesicus fuscus

J Comp Physiol A. 1990 Feb;166(4):449-70. doi: 10.1007/BF00192016.


1. FM echolocating bats (Eptesicus fuscus) were trained to discriminate between a two-component complex target and a one-component simple target simulated by electronically-returned echoes in a series of experiments that explore the composition of the image of the two-component target. In Experiment I, echoes for each target were presented sequentially, and the bats had to compare a stored image of one target with that of the other. The bats made errors when the range of the simple target corresponded to the range of either glint in the complex target, indicating that some trace of the parts of one image interfered with perception of the other image. In Experiment II, echoes were presented simultaneously as well as sequentially, permitting direct masking of echoes from one target to the other. Changes in echo amplitude produced shifts in apparent range whose pattern depended upon the mode of echo presentation. 2. Eptesicus perceives images of complex sonar targets that explicitly represent the location and spacing of discrete glints located at different ranges. The bat perceives the target's structure in terms of its range profile along a psychological range axis using a combination of echo delay and echo spectral representations that together resemble a spectrogram of the FM echoes. The image itself is expressed entirely along a range scale that is defined with reference to echo delay. Spectral information contributes to the image by providing estimates of the range separation of glints, but it is transformed into these estimates. 3. Perceived absolute range is encoded by the timing of neural discharges and is vulnerable to shifts caused by neural amplitude-latency trading, which was estimated at 13 to 18 microseconds per dB from N1 and N4 auditory evoked potentials in Eptesicus. Spectral cues representing the separation of glints within the target are transformed into estimates of delay separations before being incorporated into the image. However, because they are encoded by neural frequency tuning rather than the time-of-occurrence of neural discharges, the perceived range separation of glints in images is not vulnerable to amplitude-latency shifts. 4. The bat perceives an image that is displayed in the domain of time or range. The image receives no evident spectral contribution beyond what is transformed into delay estimates. Although the initial auditory representation of FM echoes is spectrogram-like, the time, frequency, and amplitude dimensions of the spectrogram appear to be compressed into an image that has only time and amplitude dimensions.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Auditory Pathways / physiology
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Echolocation / physiology*
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vestibulocochlear Nerve / physiology*