Horseshoe bats make adaptive prey-selection decisions, informed by echo cues

Klemen Koselj, Hans-Ulrich Schnitzler, Björn M. Siemers


Foragers base their prey-selection decisions on the information acquired by the sensory systems. In bats that use echolocation to find prey in darkness, it is not clear whether the specialized diet, as sometimes found by faecal analysis, is a result of active decision-making or rather of biased sensory information. Here, we tested whether greater horseshoe bats decide economically when to attack a particular prey item and when not. This species is known to recognize different insects based on their wing-beat pattern imprinted in the echoes. We built a simulation of the natural foraging process in the laboratory, where the bats scanned for prey from a perch and, upon reaching the decision to attack, intercepted the prey in flight. To fully control echo information available to the bats and assure its unambiguity, we implemented computer-controlled propellers that produced echoes resembling those from natural insects of differing profitability. The bats monitored prey arrivals to sample the supply of prey categories in the environment and to inform foraging decisions. The bats adjusted selectivity for the more profitable prey to its inter-arrival intervals as predicted by foraging theory (an economic strategy known to benefit fitness). Moreover, unlike in previously studied vertebrates, foraging performance of horseshoe bats was not limited by costly rejections of the profitable prey. This calls for further research into the evolutionary selection pressures that sharpened the species's decision-making capacity.

  • Received December 29, 2010.
  • Accepted February 10, 2011.
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