Cortical responses to object size-dependent spectral interference patterns in echolocating bats


Dr Uwe Firzlaff, as above.


Echolocating bats can recognize 3-D objects exclusively through the analysis of the reflections of their ultrasonic emissions. For objects of small size, the spectral interference pattern of the acoustic echoes encodes information about the structure of an object. For some naturally occurring objects such as, e.g., flowers, the interference pattern as well as the echo amplitude can regularly change with the object's size, and bats should be able to compensate for both of these changes for reliable, size-invariant object recognition. In this study, electrophysiological responses of units in the auditory cortex of the bat Phyllostomus discolor were investigated using extracellular recording techniques. Acoustical stimuli consisted of echoes of virtual two-front objects that varied in size. Thus, the echoes changed systematically in amplitude and spectral envelope pattern. Whereas 30% of units simply encoded echo loudness, a considerable number of units (20%) encoded a specific spectral envelope shape independent of stimulus amplitude. In addition, a small number of cortical units (3%) were found that showed response-invariance for a covariation of echo amplitude and echo spectral envelope. The response of these two classes of units could not be simply predicted from the excitatory frequency response areas. The results show that units in the bat auditory cortex exist that might serve for the recognition of characteristic object-specific spectral echo patterns created by, e.g., flowers or other objects independent of object size or echo amplitude.