Determining the location of a sound source is crucial for survival. Both predators and prey usually produce sound while moving, revealing valuable information about their presence and location. Animals have thus evolved morphological and neural adaptations allowing precise sound localization. Mammals rely on the temporal and amplitude differences between the sound signals arriving at their two ears, as well as on the spectral cues available in the signal arriving at a single ear to localize a sound source. Most mammals rely on passive hearing and are thus limited by the acoustic characteristics of the emitted sound. Echolocating bats emit sound to perceive their environment. They can, therefore, affect the frequency spectrum of the echoes they must localize. The biosonar sound beam of a bat is directional, spreading different frequencies into different directions. Here, we analyse mathematically the spatial information that is provided by the beam and could be used to improve sound localization. We hypothesize how bats could improve sound localization by altering their echolocation signal design or by increasing their mouth gape (the size of the sound emitter) as they, indeed, do in nature. Finally, we also reveal a trade-off according to which increasing the echolocation signal's frequency improves the accuracy of sound localization but might result in undesired large localization errors under low signal-to-noise ratio conditions.
- Sensory systems