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Abstract

Animals can use signals emitted by other animals as sources of information. Auditory signals are important in communication networks, as they can potentially convey information about the location and state of conspecifics and other species over long distances. Signalling is important in fission–fusion societies, in which animals from the same social group temporarily split into subgroups and frequently change roost sites. We used playbacks of social calls of the noctule Nyctalus noctula produced in roosts, to show how bats might maintain group cohesion and to test the hypothesis that noctules can locate conspecifics when returning from foraging trips by eavesdropping on or communicating with roosting individuals. Noctules responded strongly to broadcasted social calls. Their reactions included inspections and landing on a loudspeaker broadcasting social calls and occasional social vocalisation. Responses by other bat species to the noctule social calls were negligible. The high amplitude, low-frequency vocalisations emitted by noctules in roosts can propagate over long distances and allow group members to announce their position. Bats can extract information about the location of roosts containing conspecifics by eavesdropping or by communication. Social calls may thus be sufficient to locate conspecifics in roosts and maintain spatial associations of groups in mammals.