Animals that rely on electrolocation and echolocation for navigation and prey detection benefit from sensory systems that can operate in the dark, allowing them to exploit sensory niches with few competitors. Active sensing has been characterized as a highly specialized form of communication, whereby an echolocating or electrolocating animal serves as both the sender and receiver of sensory information. This characterization inspires a framework to explore the functions of sensory channels that communicate information with the self and with others. Overlapping communication functions create challenges for signal privacy and fidelity by leaving active-sensing animals vulnerable to eavesdropping, jamming and masking. Here, we present an overview of active-sensing systems used by weakly electric fish, bats and odontocetes, and consider their susceptibility to heterospecific and conspecific jamming signals and eavesdropping. Susceptibility to interference from signals produced by both conspecifics and prey animals reduces the fidelity of electrolocation and echolocation for prey capture and foraging. Likewise, active-sensing signals may be eavesdropped, increasing the risk of alerting prey to the threat of predation or the risk of predation to the sender, or drawing competition to productive foraging sites. The evolutionary success of electrolocating and echolocating animals suggests that they effectively counter the costs of active sensing through rich and diverse adaptive behaviors that allow them to mitigate the effects of competition for signal space and the exploitation of their signals.

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