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Echoes of bat-pollinated bell-shaped flowers: conspicuous for nectar-feeding bats?
Dagmar v. Helversen, Marc W. Holderied, Otto v. Helversen


Nectar-feeding glossophagine bats searching for flowers are guided by their echolocation system as well as olfactory cues in detecting and recognizing nectar sources. Therefore, chiropterophilous plants, which depend on these bats as pollinators, may be expected to have evolved acoustically conspicuous flowers that facilitate detection. As it is poorly understood how bats manage to find and recognize flowers acoustically, we investigated the echoes of some of the flowers pollinated by bats.

Echoes of bell-shaped bat-pollinated flowers have characteristic features with respect to the echoes they reflect to a calling bat and differ from the echoes of leaves or other objects in their surroundings: the echoes are comparatively long and of complex spectral composition. Owing to the specific shape of the flowers, characteristic `spectral directional patterns' result when the spectra of the echoes are plotted against the angle of sound incidence.

We suggest that bats are able to recognize such flowers — and probably other objects as well — not only by a characteristic spectral composition of the echo but also by comparing sequential echoes, at the same time taking into account their exact calling position relative to the object.

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