Plant classification from bat-like echolocation signals

Yossi Yovel, Matthias Otto Franz, Peter Stilz, Hans Ulrich Schnitzler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Classification of plants according to their echoes is an elementary component of bat behavior that plays an important role in spatial orientation and food acquisition. Vegetation echoes are, however, highly complex stochastic signals: from an acoustical point of view, a plant can be thought of as a three-dimensional array of leaves reflecting the emitted bat call. The received echo is therefore a superposition of many reflections. In this work we suggest that the classification of these echoes might not be such a troublesome routine for bats as formerly thought. We present a rather simple approach to classifying signals from a large database of plant echoes that were created by ensonifying plants with a frequency-modulated bat-like ultrasonic pulse. Our algorithm uses the spectrogram of a single echo from which it only uses features that are undoubtedly accessible to bats. We used a standard machine learning algorithm (SVM) to automatically extract suitable linear combinations of time and frequency cues from the spectrograms such that classification with high accuracy is enabled. This demonstrates that ultrasonic echoes are highly informative about the species membership of an ensonified plant, and that this information can be extracted with rather simple, biologically plausible analysis. Thus, our findings provide a new explanatory basis for the poorly understood observed abilities of bats in classifying vegetation and other complex objects.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000032
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


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