Australian scientists find bats have regional accents

Mon Sep 13, 2010 4:19am EDT
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SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - It's not just people who have different accents but bats as well develop dialects depending on where they live which can help identify and protect different species, according to Australian scientists.

Researcher Brad Law of the Forest Science Centre found that bats living in the forests along the east coast of the state of New South Wales had different calls.

He said scientists had long suspected bats had distinctive regional calls -- as studies have shown with some other animals -- but this was the first time it had been proven in the field.

Law said the different calls of about 30 bat species were used to develop a system so that scientists could identify the various bats along the coast, assess their numbers, and protect them.

"We need to improve our ability to reliably distinguish between species that have commonly shared call features and we must increase the speed of call identification," Law said in the latest edition of Forest NSW's Bush Telegraph Magazine.

"The automation of bat call identification is seen as an essential development in the efficiency of this survey method and should ultimately fulfill both of these criteria."

The project was conducted by Law and other scientists from the Forest Science Centre, a unit of the state government body Industry & Investment NSW, and researchers from the University of Wollongong and the University of Ballarat.

Researchers took 4,000 bat calls and used a custom-made software program to develop identification keys for bat calls in different parts of New South Wales.

Bats use their calls to navigate and hunt using a process called echolocation in which high frequency ultrasounds, inaudible to humans, hit objects and echo back.   Continued...