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Active acoustic interference elicits echolocation changes in heterospecific bats [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Te K. Jones, Melville J. Wohlgemuth, and William E. Conner

Echolocating bats often forage in the presence of both conspecific and heterospecific individuals who have the potential to produce acoustic interference. Recent studies have shown that at least one bat species, the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), produces specialized social signals that disrupt the sonar of conspecific competitors. We herein discuss the differences between passive and active jamming signals and test whether heterospecific jamming occurs in species overlapping spatiotemporally as well as whether such interference elicits a jamming avoidance response (JAR). We compare the capture rates of tethered moths and the echolocation parameters of big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) challenged with the playback of the jamming signal normally produced by Brazilian free-tailed bats and playback of deconstructed versions of this signal. There were no differences in the capture rates of targets with and without the jamming signal although significant changes in both spectral and temporal features of the bats’ echolocation were observed. These changes are consistent with improvements of the signal-to-noise ratio in the presence of acoustic interference. Accordingly, we propose to expand the traditional definition of the JAR, stating that echolocation changes in response to interference should decrease similarity between the two signals, to include any change that increases the ability to separate returning echoes from active jamming stimuli originating from conspecific and heterospecific organisms. Flexibility in echolocation is an important characteristic for overcoming various forms of acoustic interference and may serve a purpose in interspecific interactions as well as intraspecific ones.

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