Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bat power

What are the chances of echolocation hitting the weird news 3 times in 3 weeks?! Researchers from the University of Leeds designed open-source software and used it to create the most detailed large-scale habitat suitability maps (IMAGE ABOVE) ever created for bats in the U.K. They walked the Lake District 120 times and were able to sort the 15,000 ultrasonic, high-frequency echoes they recorded into the 8 different bat species that emitted them. Biologist Chloe Bellamy explains the usefulness of the interactive maps, "They're a brilliant decision-making tool, because you end up with these large, landscape-scale maps covering a huge area, but you can zoom in to get a detailed picture....Say I want to put in a road somewhere, where would be the best place to put the road? You could try rerunning the model, putting the road in different places and seeing what impact it has on the habitat suitability for a range of bat species and choosing the best solution. This kind of scenario-modelling toolkit could be really useful." Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have developed a system capable of reconstructing the shape of a room – and where you are in it - using echoes. The researchers wrote an echo-sorting algorithm which can discriminate between the first and later echoes and tested it successfully in a cathedral. Within a year, they hope to have an app ready that will be of interest to retailers, among others. "At least four microphones are needed to ensure we robustly capture first order echoes and reject noise. This could be run by a store owner like Wal-Mart, allowing people to download the app when they come in," suggests creator Ivan Dokmanic. But the most attention-getting recent headline about echolocation is this: "Hawkmoths zap bats with sonic blasts from their genitals." Behavioural ecologist Jesse Barber of Boise State University and phylogeneticist Akito Kawahara of the University of Florida found during their research in Borneo that the tropical moths rasp their "claspers" against their abdomens to beam loud ultrasound signals at approaching bats. The noise either warns the predators of their excellent aerial skills or actually jams the bats’ sonar. The strange ability of the hawkmoths to make ultrasound clicks suggests that other bugs can do the same – although maybe not in such a newsworthy way – and that it's “a really good strategy for insects to deploy."

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