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.
|Journal||Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America|
|State||Published - 16 Aug 2022|
- automated radio tracking
- group foraging