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Curr Biol. 2016 Oct 24;26(20):R976-R980. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.05.042.

Sensory matched filters.

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Department of Biology, University of Lund, Sölvegatan 35, S-22362 Lund, Sweden. Electronic address:


As animals move through their environments they are subjected to an endless barrage of sensory signals. Of these, some will be of utmost importance, such as the tell-tale aroma of a potential mate, the distinctive appearance of a vital food source or the unmistakable sound of an approaching predator. Others will be less important. Indeed some will not be important at all. There are, for instance, wide realms of the sensory world that remain entirely undetected, simply because an animal lacks the physiological capacity to detect and analyse the signals that characterise this realm. Take ourselves for example: we are completely insensitive to the Earth's magnetic field, a sensory cue of vital importance as a compass for steering the long distance migration of animals as varied as birds, lobsters and sea turtles. We are also totally oblivious to the rich palette of ultraviolet colours that exist all around us, colours seen by insects, crustaceans, birds, fish and lizards (in fact perhaps by most animals). Nor can we hear the ultrasonic sonar pulses emitted by bats in hot pursuit of flying insect prey. The simple reason for these apparent deficiencies is that we either lack the sensory capacity entirely (as in the case of magnetoreception) or that our existing senses are incapable of detecting specific ranges of the stimulus (such as the ultraviolet wavelength range of light).

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