Insectivorous bats form mobile sensory networks to optimize prey localization: The case of the common noctule bat

Manuel Roeleke*, Ulrike E. Schlagel, Cara Gallagher, Jan Pufelski, Torsten Blohm, Ran Nathan, Sivan Toledo, Florian Jeltsch, Christian C. Voigt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Animals that depend on ephemeral, patchily distributed prey often use public information to locate resource patches. The use of public information can lead to the aggregation of foragers at prey patches, a mechanism known as local enhancement. However, when ephemeral resources are distributed over large areas, foragers may also need to increase search efficiency, and thus apply social strategies when sampling the landscape. While sensory networks of visually oriented animals have already been confirmed, we lack an understanding of how acoustic eavesdropping adds to the formation of sensory networks. Here we radio-tracked a total of 81 aerial-hawking bats at very high spatiotemporal resolution during five sessions over 3 y, recording up to 19 individuals simultaneously. Analyses of interactive flight behavior provide conclusive evidence that bats form temporary mobile sensory networks by adjusting their movements to neighboring conspecifics while probing the airspace for prey. Complementary agent-based simulations confirmed that the observed movement patterns can lead to the formation of mobile sensory networks, and that bats located prey faster when networking than when relying only on local enhancement or searching solitarily. However, the benefit of networking diminished with decreasing group size. The combination of empirical analyses and simulations elucidates how animal groups use acoustic information to efficiently locate unpredictable and ephemeral food patches. Our results highlight that declining local populations of social foragers may thus suffer from Allee effects that increase the risk of collapses under global change scenarios, like insect decline and habitat degradation.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2203663119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number33
StatePublished - 16 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. We thank Carolin Scholz, Calvin Mehl, Wiebke Ullmann, Thibault Fronville, Tamara Knecht, and members from Leibniz-IZW, BioMove, and the University of Potsdam for help during fieldwork; many local supporters from the Uckermark, especially Dr. Coym and Mr. L€ubbcke from Agrar Dedelow, Mr. Schulze, Mr. B€uttner-Janner, and Mr. Menke; Yoav Bartan, Yotam Orchan, and Hansi Vogl for technical support; and Robert Hering for discussion of the results. Funding was provided in part by Deutsche Forschungsgemein-schaft Grant GRK 2118 Biomove (to M.R., U.E.S., C.G., F.J., and C.C.V.); Minerva Center for Movement Ecology, the Minerva Foundation, and Israel Science Foundation Grant 965/15 (to R.N. and S.T.); the Adelina and Massimo Della Pergola Chair of Life Sciences (R.N.); and Israel Science Foundation Grant 1919/ 19 (to S.T.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


  • automated radio tracking
  • ephemerality
  • group foraging
  • simulation
  • sociality


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