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Echo-acoustic flow affects flight in bats

J Exp Biol 219: 1893-7. doi: 10.1242/jeb.139345. Epub 2016 Apr 4.

Authors/Editors: Kugler K
Greiter W
Luksch H
Firzlaff U
Wiegrebe L
Publication Date: 2016
Type of Publication: Journal Articles 2010 - 2019


Flying animals need to react fast to rapid changes in their environment. Visually guided animals use optic flow, generated by their movement through structured environments. Nocturnal bats cannot make use of optic flow, but rely mostly on echolocation. Here we show that bats exploit echo-acoustic flow to negotiate flight through narrow passages. Specifically, bats' flight between lateral structures is significantly affected by the echo-acoustic salience of those structures, independent of their physical distance. This is true although echolocation, unlike vision, provides explicit distance cues. Moreover, the bats reduced the echolocation sound levels in stronger flow, likely to compensate for the increased summary target strength of the lateral reflectors. However, bats did not reduce flight velocity under stronger echo-acoustic flow. Our results demonstrate that sensory flow is a ubiquitous principle for flight guidance, independent of the fundamentally different peripheral representation of flow across the senses of vision and echolocation.

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