Bat Calls Contain Wealth of Discernible Information; Analyzing Some 15,000 Bat Vocalizations, Researchers Identify Speakers, Objectives, and Contexts of Bat Conversations

Bats, like humans, are extremely social mammals. They enjoy an average lifespan of 20-30 years, settle in large colonies, and rely heavily on social interactions for their survival, using vocalizations -- or calls -- for communication. There is very little known about the purpose and content of these noises. A new Tel Aviv University (TAU) study published in Scientific Reports extracts critical information from bat vocalizations to offer a rare, informative look into the world of bat communication. The new research, led by Professor Yossi Yovel of the Department of Zoology at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences, delves into the veritable cacophony emitted by bats to identify concrete evidence of a socially sophisticated species that learns communication, rather than being born with a fixed set of communication skills. "When you enter a bat cave, you hear a lot of 'gibberish,' a cacophony of aggressive bat noise - but is this merely 'shouting' or is there information amid the noise?" asked Prof. Yovel. "Previous research presumed that most bat communication was based on screaming and shouting. We wanted to know how much information was actually conveyed -- and we wanted to see if we could, in fact, extract that information." The open-access Scientific Reports article was published online on December 22, 2016, and is titled “Everyday Bat Vocalizations Contain Information About Emitter, Addressee, Context, and Behavior.” For the purpose of the research, Mor Taub and Yosef Prat, students in Professor Yovel's lab, recorded the sounds emitted by 22 Egyptian fruit bats in TAU's "bat cave" over the course of 75 days. The authors then assembled a dataset of approximately 15,000 vocalizations, which represented the full vocal repertoire the bats used during the experiment.
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