Blind as bats: Echolocation study reveals key evolutionary trade-offs with other senses

Big eared townsend bat (Corynorhinus townsendii) Credit: Public Domain

Among the most fascinating evolutionary adaptations has been the development of echolocation in bats. But to develop their unique sonar system for exploring caves in the dark, what evolutionary tradeoffs occurred between their other senses like smell, vision and hearing, i.e. to be blind as a bat?

There are two kinds of , Old World fruit bats and echolocating bats. Old World fruit bats have no laryngeal echolocating ability, and navigate largely by vision with excellent eyesight, whereas echolocating bats rely solely on echolocation for navigation.

Now, using whole genome sequencing technology, a research team led by Dong Dong et al. performed a new comparative study of two sophisticated echolocating bats - the great leaf-nosed bat (Hipposideros armiger) and Chinese rufous horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus sinicus), named for their protuberances on their noses. When navigating, they are sensitive enough to distinguish their ultrasonic calls from the Doppler shifted echoes (think of the sound of a passing train). Their results confirm evolutionary trade-offs at work—showing an extensive contraction of smell (olfactory) receptor gene repertoires and loss of a dozen vision-related genes in the echolocating bats.

In addition, they re-sequenced the whole genome of 20 great leaf-nosed bats from four major distributed locations in China, and measured their genetic diversity and patterns of evolution. They found evidences of genetic adaptations in the great leaf-nosed bats that are associated with high altitudes, and overall, provided a useful powerful new resource for the research on the evolution of bats.

Explore further

'Non-echolocating' fruit bats actually do echolocate, with wing clicks

More information: , OUP accepted manuscript, Molecular Biology And Evolution (2016). DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msw231
Journal information: Molecular Biology and Evolution

Citation: Blind as bats: Echolocation study reveals key evolutionary trade-offs with other senses (2016, November 1) retrieved 22 September 2019 from
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User comments

Nov 01, 2016
This article has nothing to do with evolution. It does compare 2 different species, and painstakingly tries to connect all differences to evolution. What nonsense! This is so far removed from true science. To give some examples of real science,

Have found "fascinating evolutionary adaptations" should be
Have found "fascinating characteristics"

"development of echolocation" should be
"Trait of echolocation"

"Their results confirm evolutionary trade-offs" should be
"Their results confirm different characteristics"

Has a "loss of a dozen vision-related genes in the echolocating bats." should be
"Do not have a dozen vision-related genes in the echolocating bats."

"They found evidences of genetic adaptations..." should be
"They found variation in genetics"

Nov 02, 2016
Your comment has nothing to do with science.

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