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J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2003 Feb;189(2):153-61. Epub 2003 Feb 7.

Diversity in the structure of electrocommunication signals within a genus of electric fish, Apteronotus.

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Department of Biology, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106, USA.


Some gymnotiform electric fish modulate their electric organ discharge for intraspecific communication. In Apteronotus leptorhynchus, chirps are usually rapid (10-30 ms) modulations that are activated through non- N-methyl- d-aspartate (non-NMDA) glutamate receptors in the hindbrain pacemaker nucleus. Males produce longer chirp types than females and chirp at higher rates. In Apteronotus albifrons, chirp rate is sexually monomorphic, but chirp structure (change in frequency and amplitude during a chirp) was unknown. To better understand the neural regulation and evolution of chirping behavior, we compared chirp structure in these two species under identical stimulus regimes. A. albifrons, like A. leptorhynchus, produced distinct types of chirps that varied, in part, by frequency excursion. However, unlike in A. leptorhynchus, chirp types in A. albifrons varied little in duration, and chirps were all longer (70-200 ms) than those of A. leptorhynchus. Chirp type production was not sexually dimorphic in A. albifrons, but within two chirp types males produced longer chirps than females. We suggest that species differences in chirp duration might be attributable to differences in the relative proportions of fast-acting (non-NMDA) and slow-acting (NMDA) glutamate receptors in the pacemaker. Additionally, we map species difference onto a phylogeny and hypothesize an evolutionary sequence for the diversification of chirp structure.

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