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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Mar 5;110(10):4063-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211533110. Epub 2013 Feb 19.

Ambient noise induces independent shifts in call frequency and amplitude within the Lombard effect in echolocating bats.

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Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


The Lombard effect, an involuntary rise in call amplitude in response to masking ambient noise, represents one of the most efficient mechanisms to optimize signal-to-noise ratio. The Lombard effect occurs in birds and mammals, including humans, and is often associated with several other vocal changes, such as call frequency and duration. Most studies, however, have focused on noise-dependent changes in call amplitude. It is therefore still largely unknown how the adaptive changes in call amplitude relate to associated vocal changes such as frequency shifts, how the underlying mechanisms are linked, and if auditory feedback from the changing vocal output is needed. Here, we examined the Lombard effect and the associated changes in call frequency in a highly vocal mammal, echolocating horseshoe bats. We analyzed how bandpass-filtered noise (BFN; bandwidth 20 kHz) affected their echolocation behavior when BFN was centered on different frequencies within their hearing range. Call amplitudes increased only when BFN was centered on the dominant frequency component of the bats' calls. In contrast, call frequencies increased for all but one BFN center frequency tested. Both amplitude and frequency rises were extremely fast and occurred in the first call uttered after noise onset, suggesting that no auditory feedback was required. The different effects that varying the BFN center frequency had on amplitude and frequency rises indicate different neural circuits and/or mechanisms underlying these changes.

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