Active sensing animals perceive their surroundings by emitting probes of energy and analyzing how the environment modulates these probes. However, the probes of conspecifics can jam active sensing, which should cause problems for groups of active sensing animals. This problem was termed the cocktail party nightmare for echolocating bats: as bats listen for the faint returning echoes of their loud calls, these echoes will be masked by the loud calls of other close-by bats. Despite this problem, many bats echolocate in groups and roost socially. Here, we present a biologically parametrized framework to quantify echo detection in groups. Incorporating properties of echolocation, psychoacoustics, acoustics, and group flight, we quantify how well bats flying in groups can detect each other despite jamming. A focal bat in the center of a group can detect neighbors in group sizes of up to 100 bats. With increasing group size, fewer and only the closest and frontal neighbors are detected. Neighbor detection is improved by longer call intervals, shorter call durations, denser groups, and more variable flight and sonar beam directions. Our results provide a quantification of the sensory input of echolocating bats in collective group flight, such as mating swarms or emergences. Our results further generate predictions on the sensory strategies bats may use to reduce jamming in the cocktail party nightmare. Lastly, we suggest that the spatially limited sensory field of echolocators leads to limited interactions within a group, so that collective behavior is achieved by following only nearest neighbors.
Keywords: active sensing; bioacoustics; group behavior; psychoacoustics; sonar interference.
Conflict of interest statement
The authors declare no competing interest.
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