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Sensory motor integration in bats

An aerial hawking bat detects, locates, tracks and captures prey in as little as 0.5 seconds from detection to capture. This fast interaction between bats and their prey challenges not only the acoustic processing algorithms but also the speed with which processing leads to behavioural decisions. During perception the brain is bombarded with information, so filtering already on the output side, before the auditory input, reduces the amount of information the brain has to sort through and the faster it can generate the response. Bats presumably do this kind of filtering by emitting a narrow sonar beam during the search for prey. However, this need for speed pushes not only the sensory system and information processing to its limits, but also the motor output, i.e. the bats manoeuvrability and agility in flight.

Because bats use echolocation for navigation and foraging, they offer a unique chance to passively study their perception; every time the bat probes its surroundings it emits a signal that is characterised by its expectations. If the bat encounters an open space it emits calls with long durations and high intensity to reach far, while if it encounters a narrow space it reduces the duration and intensity to reduce information load and clutter echoes.

Thus, by inferring, from echolocation, what and how bats perceive their surroundings while simultaneously monitoring how they adapt their flight and acoustic behaviour we have a unique system for studying the active dynamic link between perception and action.

Three bats flying around a meal worm suspended on a string in an attempt to catch it

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