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Evolution of the heteroharmonic strategy for target-range computation in the echolocation of Mormoopidae

Frontiers in Physiology
Frontiers Media SA
Publication Date
DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00141
  • Physiology
  • Review Article
  • Musicology


Echolocating bats use the time elapsed from biosonar pulse emission to the arrival of echo (defined as echo-delay) to assess target-distance. Target-distance is represented in the brain by delay-tuned neurons that are classified as either “heteroharmonic” or “homoharmormic.” Heteroharmonic neurons respond more strongly to pulse-echo pairs in which the timing of the pulse is given by the fundamental biosonar harmonic while the timing of echoes is provided by one (or several) of the higher order harmonics. On the other hand, homoharmonic neurons are tuned to the echo delay between similar harmonics in the emitted pulse and echo. It is generally accepted that heteroharmonic computations are advantageous over homoharmonic computations; i.e., heteroharmonic neurons receive information from call and echo in different frequency-bands which helps to avoid jamming between pulse and echo signals. Heteroharmonic neurons have been found in two species of the family Mormoopidae (Pteronotus parnellii and Pteronotus quadridens) and in Rhinolophus rouxi. Recently, it was proposed that heteroharmonic target-range computations are a primitive feature of the genus Pteronotus that was preserved in the evolution of the genus. Here, we review recent findings on the evolution of echolocation in Mormoopidae, and try to link those findings to the evolution of the heteroharmonic computation strategy (HtHCS). We stress the hypothesis that the ability to perform heteroharmonic computations evolved separately from the ability of using long constant-frequency echolocation calls, high duty cycle echolocation, and Doppler Shift Compensation. Also, we present the idea that heteroharmonic computations might have been of advantage for categorizing prey size, hunting eared insects, and living in large conspecific colonies. We make five testable predictions that might help future investigations to clarify the evolution of the heteroharmonic echolocation in Mormoopidae and other families.

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