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Social learning within and across species: information transfer in mouse-eared bats

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Social learning describes information transfer between individuals through observation or direct interaction. Bats can live and forage in large groups, sometimes comprising several species, and are thus well suited for investigations of both intraspecific and interspecific information transfer. Although social learning has been documented within several bat species, it has not been shown to occur between species. Furthermore, it is not fully understood what level of interaction between individuals is necessary for social learning in bats. We address these questions by comparing the efficiency of observation versus interaction in intraspecific social learning and by considering interspecific social learning in sympatric bat species. Observers learned from demonstrators to identify food sources using a light cue. We show that intraspecific social learning exists in the greater mouse-eared bat (Myotis myotis (Borkhausen, 1797)) and that direct interaction with a demonstrator more efficiently leads to information transfer than observational learning alone. We also found evidence for interspecific information transfer from M. myotis to the lesser mouse-eared bat (Myotis oxygnathus Monticelli, 1885). Additionally, we opportunistically retested one individual that we recaptured from the wild 1 year after initial learning and found long-term memory of the trained association. Our study adds to the understanding of learning, information transfer, and long-term memory in wild-living animals.

Keywords: Myotis myosis; Myotis myotis; Myotis oxygnathus; apprentissage interspécifique; apprentissage social; foraging; grand murin; greater mouse-eared bat; information transfer; interspecific learning; lesser mouse-eared bat; long-term memory; mémoire à long terme; petit murin; quête de nourriture; social learning; transfert d’information

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Sensory Ecology Group, Eberhard-Gwinner-Straße 11, 82319 Seewiesen, Germany. 2: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Balboa, Ancón, Republic of Panamá. 3: University of Southern Denmark, Department of Biology, Campusvej 55, 5230 Odense M, Denmark.

Publication date: 2014-01-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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