I have been contemplating about this question for months and although I cannot provide you with a concise short answer, I do wish to share what I have so far.
First off, the acoustic beam that is sent is not really part of the echolocation resolution (the bat's echo-locating acuity). Consider the human field of view, which is nearly 180o wide in the horizontal plane. Covering your eyes and obscuring, say, half of the field will not substantially improve visual acuity, because it simply blocks half of the retinal surface from receiving light - it does not double the retinal surface devoted to the field of view.
Hence, I think it is not so much the bat's projected beam that matters, it is the incoming echo that matters. Note that objects such as a tree may scatter the sound that is reflected back, so the projected beam of 40o may be a dramatic underestimation of the chaotic signals bouncing back to the bat. What can they do to improve spatial detail in the received acoustic field of view?
Bats may increase the pulse repetition rate when they are approaching a target. Hence, they basically build a map by sampling the environment multiple times. Sampling frequencies may exceed 50 Hz (Grinnell and Griffin, 1985). For example, imagine you are blindfolded and allowed to scan an object with your fingers. Scanning it multiple times will definitely help you to mentally reconstruct the image. Indeed, bats can assemble information about echo delay changes over time, enabling them to temporally integrate information of the auditory scene. Moreover, they can change the spectral content of their calls that may help in echolocation (Moss & Surlykke, 2001).
Furthermore, to conclude with a personal thought - I think that bats must learn to decode complex echo profiles. For example, a chaotic huge blob of echo with low-echo efficiency (lots of sound is absorbed) that only changes when the bat moves is probably a tree. A big blob with a large echo-efficiency (a lot of sound comes back) with well-defined edges that only changes when the bat moves is likely a human structure or a rock. A pinpoint-echo that moves with respect to the bat is likely something tasty.
- Grinnell & Griffin, Biol Bull (1958): 10-22
- Moss & Surlykke, JASA; 110(4): 2207-26