Echolocation calls in Central American emballonurid bats: signal design and call frequency alternation


Kirsten Jung, Department of Experimental Ecology, University of Ulm, Albert-Einstein-Allee 11, D-89069 Ulm, Germany.


In southern Central America, 10 species of emballonurid bats occur, which are all aerial insectivores: some hunt flying insects preferably away from vegetation in open space, others hunt in edge space near vegetation and one species forages mainly over water. We present a search call design of each species and link signal structure to foraging habitat. All emballonurid bats use a similar type of echolocation call that consists of a central, narrowband component and one or two short, frequency-modulated sweeps. All calls are multi-harmonic, generally with most energy concentrated in the second harmonic. The design of search calls is closely related to habitat type, in particular to distance of clutter. Emballonurid bats foraging in edge space near vegetation and over water used higher frequencies, shorter call durations and shorter pulse intervals compared with species mostly hunting in open, uncluttered habitats. Peak frequency correlated negatively with body size. Regular frequency alternation between subsequent calls was typical in the search sequences of four out of 10 species. We discuss several hypotheses regarding the possible role of this frequency alternation, including species identification and partitioning of acoustic channels. Furthermore, we propose a model of how frequency alternation could increase the maximum detection distance of obstacles by marking search calls with different frequencies.