Interspecific responses to distress calls in bats (Chiroptera : Vespertilionidae): a function for convergence in call design?

J M Russ, G Jones, I J Mackie, P A Racey

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Distress calls were recorded from three sympatric species of pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus nathusii, P. pipistrellus and P. pygmaeus) in England and Northern Ireland. At foraging sites, we conducted playback experiments, consisting of experimental distress call sequences from each species and control sequences of random noise and sound recorded with no bats present. We measured response by simultaneously recording ultrasound during playbacks and counting the echolocation pulses above a predetermined threshold which were then identified to species. All three species responded to each other's calls. The number of recorded echolocation pulses of all species increased eight-fold, on average, during the playback of distress call sequences compared with the playback of ultrasonic noise, and four-fold compared with the playback of silence. In a separate playback experiment, the number of echolocation pulses of P. pygmaeus increased 14-fold during the playback of distress calls of four endemic species of bat from Madagascar (Emballonura atrata, Myotis goudoti, Miniopterus majori and M. manavi) compared with the playback of silence. This increased response might have been caused by the high calling rates of the Malagasy species. Distress calls of P. nathusii, P. pipistrellus and P. pygmaeus were structurally convergent, consisting of a series of downward-sweeping, frequency-modulated elements of short duration and high intensity with a relatively strong harmonic content. Selection may favour convergence in the structure of distress calls among bat species, if attracting heterospecifics increases the chance of repelling predators by mobbing. (C) 2004 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1005-1014
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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