Prof. Yossi Yovel
On cognitive maps and reinforcement learning in large-scale animal behaviour
Bats are extreme aviators and amazing navigators. Many bat species nightly commute dozens of kilometres in search of food, and some bat species annually migrate over thousands of kilometres. Studying bats in their natural environment has always been extremely challenging because of their small size (mostly <50 gr) and agile nature. We have recently developed novel miniature technology allowing us to GPS-tag small bats, thus opening a new window to document their behaviour in the wild. We have used this technology to track fruit-bats pups over 5 months from birth to adulthood. Following the bats’ full movement history allowed us to show that they use novel short-cuts which are typical for cognitive-map based navigation. In a second study, we examined how nectar-feeding bats make foraging decisions under competition. We show that by relying on a simple reinforcement learning strategy, the bats can divide the resource between them without aggression or communication. Together, these results demonstrate the power of the large scale natural approach for studying animal behavior.