Habituation and ecological salience: insights into the foraging ecology of the fringed-lipped bat, Trachops cirrhosus

M. May Dixon*, Katrine Hulgard, John M. Ratcliffe, Rachel A. Page

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Abstract: Animals are often confronted with more sensory stimuli than they can attend to, and so should pay attention to stimuli that are relevant to them and habituate to those that are not. We investigated attention in the fringe-lipped bat, Trachops cirrhosus, by playing repeated prey sounds to bats in a habituation-discrimination paradigm. We measured two behavioral responses: initial response and habituation rate, and also tested whether the bats discriminated between the different sounds. We found that bats habituated more quickly to sounds of unpalatable prey species, but contrary to our expectation, a bat’s initial response was unrelated to prey palatability. Furthermore, discrimination was only detectable when bats became strongly habituated and they were less attracted to the habituated sound compared to the subsequently presented sound in the stimulus pair. Our results support the idea that in nature, many sounds can draw an animal’s attention initially, but only sounds of ecological significance and perceptual salience maintain an animal’s attention over time. Significance statement: Habituation is an almost ubiquitous way that animals filter environmental information, but is often overlooked in behavioral experiments. Animals may habituate faster to sounds that are unlikely to affect their lives and more slowly to ones that are associated with food or threats. We studied the predatory bat Trachops cirrhosus that hunts using prey sounds. We presented bats with prey and non-prey sounds and observed their responses over time. We found that although bats responded similarly to all the sounds at their onset, they paid attention longer to sounds from palatable prey and habituated quickly to sounds from inedible animals. This species initially attends to new sounds that it hears, but habituates in a way that helps it selectively attend to important stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Attention
  • Bat
  • Discrimination
  • Foraging
  • Habituation
  • Trachops cirrhosus


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