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J Exp Biol. 2012 May 1;215(Pt 9):1567-74. doi: 10.1242/jeb.068007.

Active sensing via movement shapes spatiotemporal patterns of sensory feedback.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


Previous work has shown that animals alter their locomotor behavior to increase sensing volumes. However, an animal's own movement also determines the spatial and temporal dynamics of sensory feedback. Because each sensory modality has unique spatiotemporal properties, movement has differential and potentially independent effects on each sensory system. Here we show that weakly electric fish dramatically adjust their locomotor behavior in relation to changes of modality-specific information in a task in which increasing sensory volume is irrelevant. We varied sensory information during a refuge-tracking task by changing illumination (vision) and conductivity (electroreception). The gain between refuge movement stimuli and fish tracking responses was functionally identical across all sensory conditions. However, there was a significant increase in the tracking error in the dark (no visual cues). This was a result of spontaneous whole-body oscillations (0.1 to 1 Hz) produced by the fish. These movements were costly: in the dark, fish swam over three times further when tracking and produced more net positive mechanical work. The magnitudes of these oscillations increased as electrosensory salience was degraded via increases in conductivity. In addition, tail bending (1.5 to 2.35 Hz), which has been reported to enhance electrosensory perception, occurred only during trials in the dark. These data show that both categories of movements - whole-body oscillations and tail bends - actively shape the spatiotemporal dynamics of electrosensory feedback.

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