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Genzel, Daria; Hoffmann, Susanne; Prosch, Selina; Firzlaff, Uwe; Wiegrebe, Lutz ORCID: 0000-0002-9289-6187 (2015): Biosonar navigation above water II: exploiting mirror images. In: Journal of Neurophysiology, Vol. 113, No. 4: pp. 1146-1155
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Abstract

As in vision, acoustic signals can be reflected by a smooth surface creating an acoustic minor image. Water bodies represent the only naturally occurring horizontal and acoustically smooth surfaces. Echolocating bats flying over smooth water bodies encounter echo-acoustic mirror images of objects above the surface. Here, we combined an electrophysiological approach with a behavioral experimental paradigm to investigate whether bats can exploit echo-acoustic mirror images for navigation and how these mirrorlike echo-acoustic cues are encoded in their auditory cortex. In an obstacle-avoidance task where the obstacles could only be detected via their echo-acoustic minor images, most bats spontaneously exploited these cues for navigation. Sonar ensonifications along the bats' flight path revealed conspicuous changes of the reflection patterns with slightly increased target strengths' at relatively long echo delays corresponding to the longer acoustic paths from the mirrored obstacles. Recordings of cortical spatiotemporal response maps (STRMs) describe the tuning of a unit across the dimensions of elevation and time. The majority of cortical single and multiunits showed a special spatiotemporal pattern of excitatory areas in their STRM indicating a preference for echoes with (relative to the setup dimensions') long delays and, interestingly, from low elevations. This neural preference could effectively encode a reflection pattern as it would be perceived by an echolocating bat detecting an object mirrored from below. The current study provides both behavioral and neurophysiological evidence that echo-acoustic mirror images can be exploited by bats for obstacle avoidance. This capability effectively supports echo-acoustic navigation in highly cluttered natural habitats.