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.
Although the identification was time-consuming, Law said it would lead to time and money savings in field surveys and possibly increase the accuracy rate and make long-term monitoring of bats cost-effective.
But the researchers said the development of automated identification keys for bat calls was in its infancy.
"The identification keys we have produced should undergo further testing and refinement using locally collected calls, before they are used to identify complete assemblages of bat species in future studies," said Law.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Steve Addison