They found that both in random exploration and during targeted navigation, such as in the foraging task, bats retained detailed spatial memory of both the surroundings and the paths traveled. The tests also revealed that bats also have spatial awareness of their future positions.
“We have neurons that all fire simultaneously, but represent different parts of a larger path,” Dotson explains. “So it represents the past, the present and the future, not just now.”
Being able to trace their position in time with this natural GPS system is one of the best survival tools for bats, helping them locate food and escape predators.
Different species can weigh the relevance of past, present and future experiences in different ways, the study notes. In a survival scenario like “monkeys jumping between tree branches or humans driving a car or skiing downhill at high speed”, for example, future information may be more important to survival.
“The bat must plan both locally in time and in the future to be successful in its hunting behaviors,” says Melville Wohlgemuth, a Batlab researcher at the University of Arizona. “These are brain processes that are also relevant to our lives. “
Examining species other than our own has long been a hallmark of neuroscience, and studying the hippocampus of bats may give scientists a better understanding of how certain diseases affect our own brains.
For example, learning more about bats could change our perception of Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disorder that slowly destroys cognitive function and memory. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease find it difficult to intuitively orient themselves to new routes or places, even when they have encountered them several times.