Sensory processes are at the centre of our perception of the world and our behavioural actions in this world, including some of the most crucial behaviours for survival such as foraging and predator avoidance. Accordingly, natural selection has not only shaped the morphology of animals, but also their sensory and behavioural properties. The overall objective of our research is to understand the function and adaptation of sensory systems in relation to an animal's biotic and abiotic environment, and how sensory information guides appropriate behaviour.
Auditory object analysis is the basis for the biosonar-based perception of the world of echolocating bats. To understand the ecology of echolocation, we need to understand how object features are coded in echoes, how these echoes are analysed by the auditory system, and how these perceptual strategies are adapted to an species’ ecology.
Besides habitat perception, prey detection is one of the most important and challenging tasks for echolocation. In many groups of prey, ears evolved and set the stage for a coevolutionary arms race between echolocating predators and prey with bat-detecting ears. We focus on echolocating bats and eared moths, which interact with each another in a functional, ecological and evolutionary relationship. This predator-prey-relationship is solely based on acoustic information and auditory-guided behaviour for foraging and for predator avoidance, respectively. Investigating dynamic sensory processing in bats, we ask which sensory mechanisms in emission and perception enable bats to successfully capture erratically moving prey? In turn, we ask which behavioural strategies of moths make for an effective escape from attacking bats.
Echolocation calls cannot only be heard by prey: bat calls are some of the loudest biotic sounds and transmit information about the species, ecological niche and current behaviour of the calling bat. Echolocation calls are thus a potential source of information for other bats in the vicinity, which bats might exploit for their own decision making.
The transmission of any sound signal, be it used for communication or prey detection, is influenced by abiotic factors such as ambient noise and atmospheric conditions. This influence is of growing concern due to anthropogenic disturbances such as noise pollution and global warming. Using experimental and modelling approaches, we investigate how anthropogenic effects affect sensory perception, and if bats can compensate for them.