James A. Simmons, Shizuko Hiryu, and Uday Shriram
In complex biosonar scenes, the delay of echoes represents the spatial distribution of objects in depth. To avoid overlap of echo streams from successive broadcasts, individual echolocation sounds should only be emitted after all echoes of previous sounds have returned. However, close proximity of obstacles demands rapid pulse updates for steering to avoid collisions, which often means emitting a new sound before all of the previous echoes have returned. When two echo streams overlap, there is ambiguity about assigning echoes to the corresponding broadcasts. In laboratory tests of flight in dense, cluttered scenes, four species of echolocating bats exhibited different patterns of pulse emissions to accommodate potential pulse-echo ambiguity. Miniopterus fuliginosus emitted individual FM pulses only after all echoes of previous pulses had returned, with no alternating between long and short intervals. Pipistrellus abramus and Eptesicus fuscus alternated between emitting long FM pulse intervals to receive all echoes before the next pulse, and short intervals to update the rapidly changing scene while accepting partial overlap of successive echo streams. Rhinolophus ferrumequinum nippon transmitted CF/FM pulses in alternating short and long intervals, usually two to four closely spaced sounds that produced overlapping echo streams, followed by a longer interval that separated echo streams. Rhinolophus f. nippon is a statistical outlier from the three FM species, which are more similar to each other. The repeated overlap of CF/FM echo streams suggests that CF components have a distinct role in rejection of clutter and mitigation of ambiguity.