Most animals are at risk from multiple predators and can vary anti-predator behaviour based on the level of threat posed by each predator. Animals use sensory systems to detect predator cues, but the relationship between the tuning of sensory systems and the sensory cues related to predator threat are not well-studied at the community level. Noctuid moths have ultrasound-sensitive ears to detect the echolocation calls of predatory bats. Here, combining empirical data and mathematical modelling, we show that moth hearing is adapted to provide information about the threat posed by different sympatric bat species. First, we found that multiple characteristics related to the threat posed by bats to moths correlate with bat echolocation call frequency. Second, the frequency tuning of the most sensitive auditory receptor in noctuid moth ears provides information allowing moths to escape detection by all sympatric bats with similar safety margin distances. Third, the least sensitive auditory receptor usually responds to bat echolocation calls at a similar distance across all moth species for a given bat species. If this neuron triggers last-ditch evasive flight, it suggests that there is an ideal reaction distance for each bat species, regardless of moth size. This study shows that even a very simple sensory system can adapt to deliver information suitable for triggering appropriate defensive reactions to each predator in a multiple predator community.
- Anti-predator behaviour