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J Physiol Paris. 2008 Jul-Nov;102(4-6):164-72. doi: 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2008.10.013. Epub 2008 Oct 17.

The effect of difference frequency on electrocommunication: chirp production and encoding in a species of weakly electric fish, Apteronotus leptorhynchus.

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Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada.


The brown ghost knifefish, Apteronotus leptorhynchus, is a model wave-type gymnotiform used extensively in neuroethological studies. As all weakly electric fish, they produce an electric field (electric organ discharge, EOD) and can detect electric signals in their environments using electroreceptors. During social interactions, A. leptorhynchus produce communication signals by modulating the frequency and amplitude of their EOD. The Type 2 chirp, a transient increase in EOD frequency, is the most common modulation type. We will first present a description of A. leptorhynchus chirp production from a behavioural perspective, followed by a discussion of the mechanisms by which chirps are encoded by electroreceptor afferents (P-units). Both the production and encoding of chirps are influenced by the difference in EOD frequency between interacting fish, the so-called beat or difference frequency (Df). Chirps are produced most often when the Df is small, whereas attacks are more common when Dfs are large. Correlation analysis has shown that chirp production induces an echo response in interacting conspecifics and that chirps are produced when attack rates are low. Here we show that both of these relationships are strongest when Dfs are large. Electrophysiological recordings from electroreceptor afferents (P-units) have suggested that small, Type 2 chirps are encoded by increases in electroreceptor synchrony at low Dfs only. How Type 2 chirps are encoded at higher Dfs, where the signals seem to exert the greatest behavioural influence, was unknown. Here, we provide evidence that at higher Dfs, chirps could be encoded by a desynchronization of the P-unit population activity.

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