Directional properties of bat ears for target localization

Guarato, Francesco and Windmill, James and Gachagan, Anthony (2012) Directional properties of bat ears for target localization. In: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology, 2012-08-05 - 2012-08-10, Maryland. (

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Among several bat acoustic capabilities, it is reported that the error they show in discriminating the direction of a target in the elevation plane is within a few degrees. Many researchers have investigated bat echolocation and attempted to explain which features their accuracy relies on. Some works have pointed out the importance of beam patterns associated to the ears of the bats: indeed, ear shapes are very complex and different across species. This allows bats to significantly discriminate among the directions the echoes of their calls come from. Also, binaural cues for sound localization have been found to be determinant for some bat species. A method to estimate target orientation based on the beam patterns of the receivers and their binaural geometric relationship is developed for a sonar system emulating bats echolocation: a broadband signal is produced in the ultrasonic range and the echoes are collected by two receivers. The location of the target with respect to the bat is given by spherical coordinates including the distance from the bat and the orientation (defined by azimuth and elevation angles). While distance of the target from the sonar system is recovered through the time from the emission to the reception of the signal, the orientation is estimated from knowledge of the beam profiles of the receivers. The ratios between received and original signals’ spectra are calculated for the left and the right receiver across frequencies after compensating for distance effects. Orientations ensuring attenuation values in the beam patterns closest to the ratios are selected. Among these, one orientation for the left receiver and one for the right, fulfilling appropriate mutual geometric relations given by the geometry of the situation, are selected, these two defining the direction of the signal echo. The beam patterns associated to the left and the right ear of the Phyllostomus discolor bat are used within a limited range of orientations. A model of the emission of the signal and its reception is simulated for a set of target orientations spanning the beam pattern domain. Additionally, several noise levels are considered. Estimates of directions of the echoes are performed and the error for each of them with respect to the true orientation is calculated. Most error values are comparable to those reported in the literature and associated to some bat species. The beam patterns have very irregular shapes over the set of orientations that change with the frequency range: indeed, the accuracy of the method in estimating the true orientation depends on the choice of the frequency range and on the area of orientations over which the beam pattern is defined. This approach makes it possible to investigate which acoustic features ensure good orientation estimates in order to explain why bats have such complex beam patterns filtering the echoes. As this method relies only on knowledge of the receivers’ beam patterns and geometric relations based on the binaural configuration, it appears feasible that bats utilise this effect.