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Baier, A. Leonie; Wiegrebe, Lutz ORCID: 0000-0002-9289-6187 (2018): Flutter sensitivity in FM bats. Part I: delay modulation. In: Journal of Comparative Physiology A, Vol. 204, No. 11: pp. 929-939
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Abstract

Echolocating bats measure target distance by the time delay between call and echo. Target movement such as the flutter of insect wings induces delay modulations. Perception of delay modulations has been studied extensively in bats, but only concerning how well bats discriminate flutter frequencies, never with regard to flutter magnitude. We used an auditory virtual reality approach to generate changes in echo delay that were independent of call repetition rate, mimicking fluttering insect wings. We show that in the frequency-modulating (FM) bat Phyllostomus discolor, the sensitivity for modulations in echo delay depends on the rate of the modulation, with bats being most sensitive at modulation rates below 20Hz and above 50Hz. The very short duration of their calls compels FM bats to evaluate slow modulations (<about 100Hz) across entire echo sequences. This makes them susceptible to interference between their own call repetition rate and the modulation rate. We propose that this phenomenon constitutes an echo-acoustic wagon-wheel effect. We further demonstrate how at high modulation rates, flutter sensitivity could be rescued by using spectral and temporal cues introduced by Doppler distortions. Thus, Doppler distortions may play a crucial role in flutter sensitivity in the hundreds of FM species worldwide.