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What it's like to be a bat
Date:6/26/2008

Not many people think about what it's like to be a bat, but for those who do, it's enlightening and potentially groundbreaking for understanding aspects of the human brain and nervous system.

Cynthia Moss, a member of the Neuroscience and Cognitive Science program at the University of Maryland, College Park, Md., is one of few researchers who spend time trying to get into the heads of bats.

Her new research suggests there is more to studying bats than figuring out how they process sound to distinguish environments. Partially supported by the National Science Foundation, her research paper appears in the June 18 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"For decades it's been recognized that a bat's voice produces sounds that give the bat information about the location of objects," says Moss. "We're now recognizing that every time a bat produces a sound there are changes in brain activity that may be important for scene analysis, sensorimotor control and spatial memory and navigation."

The research could help neurobiologists understand mechanisms in the human brain and ultimately benefit human health, but that may not happen for some time as more research is needed.

Moss and her colleague, Nachum Ulanovsky from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, reviewed more than 100 studies and determined the brief calls emitted through a bat's mouth or nostrils and their returning echoes play a pivotal role in motor control and have other behavioral implications.

In short, echoes from a bat's voice cause the bat to turn its head and ears, and give the bat's brain a description of the scene. The echoes also cue a bat's memory about its environment so it can safely fly between points.

"Our review highlights new research findings suggesting that the bat's vocal production does more than yield echoes," says Moss. "We're learning every time the bat produces
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Contact: Bobbie Mixon
bmixon@nsf.gov
703-292-8070
National Science Foundation
Source:Eurekalert  

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