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Integr Zool. 2009 Mar;4(1):3-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-4877.2008.00130.x.

Behavior and physiology of mechanoreception: separating signal and noise.

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Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.


The mechanosensory lateral line is found in all aquatic fish and amphibians. It provides a highly sensitive and versatile hydrodynamic sense that is used in a wide range of behavior. Hydrodynamic stimuli of biological interest originate from both abiotic and biotic sources, and include water currents, turbulence and the water disturbances caused by other animals, such as prey, predators and conspecifics. However, the detection of biologically important stimuli often has to occur against a background of noise generated by water movement, or movement of the fish itself. As such, separating signal and noise is "of the essence" in understanding the behavior and physiology of mechanoreception. Here we discuss general issues of signal and noise in the lateral-line system and the behavioral and physiological strategies that are used by fish to enhance signal detection in a noisy environment. In order for signal and noise to be separated, they need to differ, and we will consider those differences under the headings of: frequency and temporal pattern; intensity discrimination; spatial separation; and mechanisms for the reduction of self-generated noise. We systematically cover the issues of signal and noise in lateral-line systems, but emphasize recent work on self-generated noise, and signal and noise issues related to prey search strategies and collision avoidance.

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