Cultural transmission in bats: When listening for dinner, bats learn from their neighbors

The fringe-lipped bat, Trachops cirrhosus, uses frog calls from different species as acoustic cues to assess the palatability of its prey. Previous experiments have shown that T. cirrhosus is extremely flexible in its foraging behavior. In the new study, Page and Ryan investigated the role of social learning in bat foraging flexibility. Comparing three different learning groups, the researchers measured the rate at which bats learned new foraging information: in this case, the novel (experimental) association of the calls of a poisonous toad species with the presence of palatable prey. The researchers tested the effectiveness of learning this experimental association through three different means: (a) a social learning group, in which a bat inexperienced with the new call-food association was allowed to observe an experienced bat; (b) a social facilitation group, in which two inexperienced bats were presented with the experimental task together; and (c) a trial-and-error group, in which a single inexperienced bat was presented with the experimental task alone. In the social learning group, bats rapidly acquired the novel association in an average of 5.3 trials. In the social facilitation and trial-and-error groups, most bats did not approach the call of the poisonous species even after 100 trials. These results suggest that once acquired, novel prey-cue/prey-quality associations could spread rapidly through bat populations by cultural transmission.


Contact: Heidi Hardman
Cell Press

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