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Kugler, Kathrin; Wiegrebe, Lutz ORCID: 0000-0002-9289-6187 (2017): Echo-acoustic scanning with noseleaf and ears in phyllostomid bats. In: Journal of Experimental Biology, Vol. 220, No. 15: pp. 2816-2824
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The mammalian visual system is highly directional and mammals typically employ rapid eye movements to scan their environment. Both sound emission and hearing in echolocating bats are directional but not much is known about how bats use ear movements and possibly movements of the sound-emitting structures to scan space. Here, we investigated in a tightly controlled behavioural experiment how Phyllostomus discolor bats employ their echolocation system while being moved through differently structured environments: we monitored and reconstructed both a close-up of the facial structures in 3D, including the motile noseleaf and outer ears, and the sonar-beam of the bat while it was moved along reflectors. Despite the simple linear movement of the bats in the setup, the bats pointed their beam quite variably in azimuth with a standard deviation of about +/- 20 deg. This variation arises from yaw-type head rotations. Video analyses show that the bat's noseleaf twitches with every echolocation call. Second, we show that the bat's ears are raised to a rather stereotypical head-centred position with every echolocation call. Surprisingly, P. discolor can adjust the timing and the magnitude of these ear movements to the distance of the reflectors with millisecond precision. Our findings reveal echolocation-specific specialisations as well as general principles of scanning and stabilisation of a directional remote sense. The call-correlated movements of the facial structures may lead to a higher directionality of the echolocation system and may enable the bats to adjust their echo-acoustic gaze to dynamic environments.