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Hügel, Theresa; Meir, Vincent van; Munoz-Meneses, Amanda; Clarin, B-Markus; Siemers, Björn M. and Görlitz, Holger R. (2017): Does similarity in call structure or foraging ecology explain interspecific information transfer in wild Myotis bats? In: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Vol. 71, No. 11, 168

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Animals can gain important information by attending to the signals and cues of other animals in their environment, with acoustic information playing a major role in many taxa. Echolocation call sequences of bats contain information about the identity and behaviour of the sender which is perceptible to close-by receivers. Increasing evidence supports the communicative function of echolocation within species, yet data about its role for interspecific information transfer is scarce. Here, we asked which information bats extract from heterospecific echolocation calls during foraging. In three linked playback experiments, we tested in the flight room and field if foraging Myotis bats approached the foraging call sequences of conspecifics and four heterospecifics that were similar in acoustic call structure only (acoustic similarity hypothesis), in foraging ecology only (foraging similarity hypothesis), both, or none. Compared to the natural prey capture rate of 1.3 buzzes per minute of bat activity, our playbacks of foraging sequences with 23-40 buzzes/min simulated foraging patches with significantly higher profitability. In the flight room, M. capaccinii only approached call sequences of conspecifics and of the heterospecific M. daubentonii with similar acoustics and foraging ecology. In the field, M. capaccinii and M. daubentonii only showed a weak positive response to those two species. Our results confirm information transfer across species boundaries and highlight the importance of context on the studied behaviour, but cannot resolve whether information transfer in trawling Myotis is based on acoustic similarity only or on a combination of similarity in acoustics and foraging ecology. Animals transfer information, both voluntarily and inadvertently, and within and across species boundaries. In echolocating bats, acoustic call structure and foraging ecology are linked, making echolocation calls a rich source of information about species identity, ecology and activity of the sender, which receivers might exploit to find profitable foraging grounds. We tested in three lab and field experiments if information transfer occurs between bat species and if bats obtain information about ecology from echolocation calls. Myotis capaccinii/daubentonii bats approached call playbacks, but only those from con- and heterospecifics with similar call structure and foraging ecology, confirming interspecific information transfer. Reactions differed between lab and field, emphasising situation-dependent differences in animal behaviour, the importance of field research, and the need for further studies on the underlying mechanism of information transfer and the relative contributions of acoustic and ecological similarity.

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