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Bats use sonar to identify and localize objects as they fly and navigate in the dark. They actively adjust the timing, intensity, and frequency content of their sonar signals in response to task demands. They also control the directional characteristics of their sonar vocalizations with respect to objects in the environment. Bats demonstrate highly maneuverable and agile flight, producing high turn rates and abrupt changes in speed, as they travel through the air to capture insects and avoid obstacles. Bats face the challenge of coordinating flight kinematics with sonar behavior, as they adapt to meet the varied demands of their environment.

This thesis includes three studies, one on the comparison of flight and echolocation behavior between an open space and a complex environment, one on the coordination of flight and echolocation behavior during climbing and turning, and one on the flight kinematic changes that occur under wind gust conditions.

In the first study, we found that bats adapt the structure of the sonar signals, temporal patterning, and flight speed in response to a change in their environment. We also found that flight stereotypy developed over time in the more complex environment, but not to the extent expected from previous studies of non-foraging bats. We found that the sonar beam aim of the bats predicted flight turn rate, and that the relationship changed as the bats reacted to the obstacles. In the second study, we characterized the coordination of flight and sonar behavior as bats made a steep climb and sharp turns while they navigated a net obstacle. We found the coordinated production of sonar pulses with the wingbeat phase became altered during navigation of tight turns. In the third study, we found that bats adapt wing kinematics to perform under wind gust conditions.

By characterizing flight and sonar behaviors in an insectivorous bat species, we find evidence for tight coordination of sensory and motor systems for obstacle navigation and insect capture. Through these studies, we learn about the mechanisms by which mammals and other organisms process sensory information to adapt their behaviors.