OPEN PloS one | 13 Apr 2013
AM Seibert, JC Koblitz, A Denzinger and HU Schnitzler
Echolocating bats construct an auditory world sequentially by analyzing successive pulse-echo pairs. Many other mammals rely upon a visual world, acquired by sequential foveal fixations connected by visual gaze saccades. We investigated the scanning behavior of bats and compared it to visual scanning. We assumed that each pulse-echo pair evaluation corresponds to a foveal fixation and that sonar beam movements between pulses can be seen as acoustic gaze saccades. We used a two-dimensional 16 microphone array to determine the sonar beam direction of succeeding pulses and to characterize the three dimensional scanning behavior in the common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) flying in the field. We also used variations of signal amplitude of single microphone recordings as indicator for scanning behavior in open space. We analyzed 33 flight sequences containing more than 700 echolocation calls to determine bat positions, source levels, and beam aiming. When searching for prey and orienting in space, bats moved their sonar beam in all directions, often alternately back and forth. They also produced sequences with irregular or no scanning movements. When approaching the array, the scanning movements were much smaller and the beam was moved over the array in small steps. Differences in the scanning pattern at various recording sites indicated that the scanning behavior depended on the echolocation task that was being performed. The scanning angles varied over a wide range and were often larger than the maximum angle measurable by our array. We found that echolocating bats use a “saccade and fixate” strategy similar to vision. Through the use of scanning movements, bats are capable of finding and exploring targets in a wide search cone centered along flight direction.
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