Previous studies have found variability and individual distinctiveness in the echolocation calls of bats. We consider two implications of individually distinct echolocation calls: 1) whether bats may be able to use such variation to recognise familiar conspecifics, and 2) whether investigators could use such variation to identify known individuals or to census populations. We compared the discriminability of the echolocation calls of big brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus) recorded in three situations: (a) while held in the hand, (b) while perched on a platform, and (c) while flying in an anechoic chamber. Using variables describing each sonar call, we employed discriminant function analysis (DFA) to assign calls to recording situation or to bat. Discrimination of calls by recording situation was largely unsuccessful, although flying calls could be distinguished from platform calls. Assignment of calls to individual bat across recording situations yielded 72% success, and, within a given recording situation, yielded 87% success. Stepwise DFA reduced the number of variables needed to discriminate between individuals with only a slight decrease in correct classification. These results suggest that bats (or researchers) may be able to use the information contained in the echolocation calls for individual recognition. Individual distinctiveness raises the possibility of censusing bats by sound. We used cluster analysis in an attempt to determine whether, given a sample of calls from an unknown number of bats, a reasonable estimate of the number of bats could be obtained. Results were unsatisfactory, suggesting that cluster analysis probably will not permit acoustic censusing of bats in the field.
Eptesicus fuscus, big brown bat, echolocation, individual discrimination