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Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Aug 7;276(1668):2721-8. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0473. Epub 2009 May 6.

Experimental evidence for group hunting via eavesdropping in echolocating bats.

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Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, , Alfred-Kowalke-Strasse 17, 10315 Berlin, Germany.


Group foraging has been suggested as an important factor for the evolution of sociality. However, visual cues are predominantly used to gain information about group members' foraging success in diurnally foraging animals such as birds, where group foraging has been studied most intensively. By contrast, nocturnal animals, such as bats, would have to rely on other cues or signals to coordinate foraging. We investigated the role of echolocation calls as inadvertently produced cues for social foraging in the insectivorous bat Noctilio albiventris. Females of this species live in small groups, forage over water bodies for swarming insects and have an extremely short daily activity period. We predicted and confirmed that (i) free-ranging bats are attracted by playbacks of echolocation calls produced during prey capture, and that (ii) bats of the same social unit forage together to benefit from passive information transfer via the change in group members' echolocation calls upon finding prey. Network analysis of high-resolution automated radio telemetry confirmed that group members flew within the predicted maximum hearing distance 94+/-6 per cent of the time. Thus, echolocation calls also serve as intraspecific communication cues. Sociality appears to allow for more effective group foraging strategies via eavesdropping on acoustical cues of group members in nocturnal mammals.

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