Communication breakdown: limits of spectro-temporal resolution for the perception of bat communication calls

Stephen Gareth Hörpel*, A Leonie Baier, Herbert Peremans, Jonas Reijniers, Lutz Wiegrebe, Uwe Firzlaff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


During vocal communication, the spectro-temporal structure of vocalizations conveys important contextual information. Bats excel in the use of sounds for echolocation by meticulous encoding of signals in the temporal domain. We therefore hypothesized that for social communication as well, bats would excel at detecting minute distortions in the spectro-temporal structure of calls. To test this hypothesis, we systematically introduced spectro-temporal distortion to communication calls of Phyllostomus discolor bats. We broke down each call into windows of the same length and randomized the phase spectrum inside each window. The overall degree of spectro-temporal distortion in communication calls increased with window length. Modelling the bat auditory periphery revealed that cochlear mechanisms allow discrimination of fast spectro-temporal envelopes. We evaluated model predictions with experimental psychophysical and neurophysiological data. We first assessed bats' performance in discriminating original versions of calls from increasingly distorted versions of the same calls. We further examined cortical responses to determine additional specializations for call discrimination at the cortical level. Psychophysical and cortical responses concurred with model predictions, revealing discrimination thresholds in the range of 8-15 ms randomization-window length. Our data suggest that specialized cortical areas are not necessary to impart psychophysical resilience to temporal distortion in communication calls.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13708
Number of pages15
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021


  • Animals
  • Auditory perception
  • Chiroptera/physiology
  • Echolocation
  • Female
  • Male
  • Vocalization, animal


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