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Bat researchers no longer flying blind on echolocation
Date:1/24/2010

Researchers at The University of Western Ontario (Western) led an international and multi-disciplinary study that sheds new light on the way that bats echolocate. With echolocation, animals emit sounds and then listen to the reflected echoes of those sounds to form images of their surroundings in their brains.

The team used state-of-the-art micro-computed tomography systems at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ontario to collect detailed 3D scans of the internal anatomy of 26 different bats, representing 11 different evolutionary lineages. This non-destructive technique allowed researchers to identify a bone that connects the larynx to the bones that surround and support the eardrum in bats. Some bats use their larynx to generate echolocation (biosonar) signals, allowing them to operate at night; other bats use tongue clicks to achieve the same purpose.

The research team discovered that the connection between the larynx and the ear via the stylohyal bone in the hyoid chain was unique to bats that used laryngeal echolocation. This observation makes it possible to distinguish bats that produce echolocation signals with their larynx from bats that do not echolocate and those that use tongue clicks. The results of the research will appear this week in the journal Nature, entitled "A Bony Connection Signals Laryngeal Echolocation in Bats".

The discovery adds new information to the ongoing debate about the timing and origin of flight and echolocation in the early evolution of bats. "This discovery may change the way that researchers interpret previous observations from the fossil record of bats," says Brock Fenton, the Western biologist who led the study. "These new results give researchers working with fresh or fossil material an independent anatomical characteristic to distinguish laryngeally-echolocating bats from all other bats."

The investigation was made possible because of a unique multi-discipli
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Contact: Kathy Wallis
kwallis3@uwo.ca
519-661-2111 x81136
University of Western Ontario
Source:Eurekalert  

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