Auditory opportunity and visual constraint enabled the evolution of echolocation in bats

Jeneni Thiagavel, Clément Cechetto, Sharlene E Santana, Lasse Jakobsen, Eric J Warrant, John M Ratcliffe

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Abstract

Substantial evidence now supports the hypothesis that the common ancestor of bats was nocturnal and capable of both powered flight and laryngeal echolocation. This scenario entails a parallel sensory and biomechanical transition from a nonvolant, vision-reliant mammal to one capable of sonar and flight. Here we consider anatomical constraints and opportunities that led to a sonar rather than vision-based solution. We show that bats' common ancestor had eyes too small to allow for successful aerial hawking of flying insects at night, but an auditory brain design sufficient to afford echolocation. Further, we find that among extant predatory bats (all of which use laryngeal echolocation), those with putatively less sophisticated biosonar have relatively larger eyes than do more sophisticated echolocators. We contend that signs of ancient trade-offs between vision and echolocation persist today, and that non-echolocating, phytophagous pteropodid bats may retain some of the necessary foundations for biosonar.

Original languageEnglish
Article number98
JournalNature Communications
Volume9
Number of pages10
ISSN2041-1723
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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