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J Exp Biol. 2001 Nov;204(Pt 22):3843-54.

The acoustic advantage of hunting at low heights above water: behavioural experiments on the European 'trawling' bats Myotis capaccinii, M. dasycneme and M. daubentonii.

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Department of Animal Physiology, Zoological Institute, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 28, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


We have demonstrated in behavioural experiments that success in capturing prey from surfaces in 'trawling Myotis' (Leuconoë-type) depends on the acoustic properties of the surface on which the prey is presented. Two types of surface structure were ensonified with artificial bat signals to probe their acoustic characteristics. We have shown that perception of prey by echolocation is easier if the prey is presented on a smooth surface (such as calm water) than if it is presented on a structured surface (such as vegetation or the ground). This is because the smooth surface reflects a much lower level of clutter echoes than the structured one if ensonified at an angle typical for bats foraging low over water. The ensonification experiments revealed that the sound pressure level of the echo was even higher for mealworms on a smooth surface than for mealworms suspended in air. This might be because waves travelling via the surface also contribute to the echo (e.g. reflection from the surface to the mealworm, back to the surface and then to the receiver). From the behavioural experiments, we conclude that 'trawling Myotis' take isolated objects on smooth (water) surfaces for prey. Those objects reflect isolated, stationary acoustic glints back to the echolocating bats. Conversely, 'trawling Myotis' will not recognise prey if prey echoes are embedded in numerous clutter echoes. We have demonstrated marked similarities between the three European 'trawling Myotis' species M. dasycneme, M. daubentonii and M. capaccinii in echolocation behaviour, search image, foraging strategy and prey perception. We propose that a combination of prey abundance and acoustic advantages could have led to repeated and convergent evolution of 'trawling' bats in different parts of the world.

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