Action Enhances Acoustic Cues for 3-D Target Localization by Echolocating Bats

Melville J. Wohlgemuth, Ninad B. Kothari, Cynthia F. Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Under natural conditions, animals encounter a barrage of sensory information from which they must select and interpret biologically relevant signals. Active sensing can facilitate this process by engaging motor systems in the sampling of sensory information. The echolocating bat serves as an excellent model to investigate the coupling between action and sensing because it adaptively controls both the acoustic signals used to probe the environment and movements to receive echoes at the auditory periphery. We report here that the echolocating bat controls the features of its sonar vocalizations in tandem with the positioning of the outer ears to maximize acoustic cues for target detection and localization. The bat’s adaptive control of sonar vocalizations and ear positioning occurs on a millisecond timescale to capture spatial information from arriving echoes, as well as on a longer timescale to track target movement. Our results demonstrate that purposeful control over sonar sound production and reception can serve to improve acoustic cues for localization tasks. This finding also highlights the general importance of movement to sensory processing across animal species. Finally, our discoveries point to important parallels between spatial perception by echolocation and vision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002544
JournalPLoS biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 8 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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