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Front Physiol. 2014 Aug 12;5:286. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00286. eCollection 2014.

Time and timing in the acoustic recognition system of crickets.

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Behavioural Physiology, Department of Biology, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin Berlin, Germany.
Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University Princeton, NJ, USA.


The songs of many insects exhibit precise timing as the result of repetitive and stereotyped subunits on several time scales. As these signals encode the identity of a species, time and timing are important for the recognition system that analyzes these signals. Crickets are a prominent example as their songs are built from sound pulses that are broadcast in a long trill or as a chirped song. This pattern appears to be analyzed on two timescales, short and long. Recent evidence suggests that song recognition in crickets relies on two computations with respect to time; a short linear-nonlinear (LN) model that operates as a filter for pulse rate and a longer integration time window for monitoring song energy over time. Therefore, there is a twofold role for timing. A filter for pulse rate shows differentiating properties for which the specific timing of excitation and inhibition is important. For an integrator, however, the duration of the time window is more important than the precise timing of events. Here, we first review evidence for the role of LN-models and integration time windows for song recognition in crickets. We then parameterize the filter part by Gabor functions and explore the effects of duration, frequency, phase, and offset as these will correspond to differently timed patterns of excitation and inhibition. These filter properties were compared with known preference functions of crickets and katydids. In a comparative approach, the power for song discrimination by LN-models was tested with the songs of over 100 cricket species. It is demonstrated how the acoustic signals of crickets occupy a simple 2-dimensional space for song recognition that arises from timing, described by a Gabor function, and time, the integration window. Finally, we discuss the evolution of recognition systems in insects based on simple sensory computations.


acoustic communication; auditory processing; computational neuroscience; crickets; insects

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