Communication and social behavior – The imprinted bat colony and fMRI

Bats are among the most social mammals with many species navigating together, foraging in groups or roosting in colonies of hundreds to thousands of individuals, often for dozens of years. Bats communicate vocally with each other and can recognize each other. Reciprocal altruism, one of the highest degrees of cooperative behavior, was demonstrated in vampire bats. Bats can therefore serve as ideal models for studying sociality in mammals, but yet, our current understanding of the bat colony is very poor. Are there clusters in the colony? Are there long lasting bonds? What makes two bats fly together? And how developed is bat vocal communication are all open questions.
The Neuro-ecology lab is home for the imprinted bat colony – a colony of highly social Egyptian fruit bats that roost in the lab, but are free to forage in the wild. We use state-of-the-art technology to monitor the activity of these bats when they are in the colony and when they are flying in the wild. Miniature GPS, accelerometers and microphones are mounted on the bats to follow them when they fly out of the colony at night while video and RF-ID technology allow us to examine their interactions inside the colony. Altogether, this system enables to reveal how micro-social and acoustic interactions between individuals shape the global social structure of the colony. Network analysis is applied to investigate the rich out coming data and brain functional imaging (fMRI) is used to elucidate how the bat brain supports these social abilities. We believe that this unique experimental system in which dozens of individuals are continuously monitored in their colony and in the wild will provide new insight about mammalian sociality.