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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences




As communication signal properties change, through genetic drift or selective pressure, the sensory systems that receive these signals must also adapt to maintain sensitivity and adaptability in an array of contexts. Shedding light on this process helps us to understand how sensory codes are tailored to specific tasks. In a species of weakly electric fish, Apteronotus albifrons, we examined the unique neurophysiological properties that support the encoding of electrosensory communication signals that the animal encounters in social exchanges. We compare our findings to the known coding properties of the closely related species Apteronotus leptorhynchus to establish how these animals differ in their ability to encode their distinctive communication signals. While there are many similarities between these two species, we found notable differences leading to relatively poor coding of the details of chirp structure occurring on high-frequency background beats. As a result, small differences in chirp properties are poorly resolved by the nervous system. We performed behavioral tests to relate A. albifrons chirp coding strategies to its use of chirps during social encounters. Our results suggest that A. albifrons does not exchange frequent chirps in a nonbreeding condition, particularly when the beat frequency is high. These findings parallel the mediocre chirp coding accuracy in that they both point to a reduced reliance on frequent and rich exchange of information through chirps during these social interactions. Therefore, our study suggests that neural coding strategies in the CNS vary across species in a way that parallels the behavioral use of the sensory signals.

Source Citation

Allen, K. M., & Marsat, G. (2019). Neural Processing of Communication Signals: The Extent of Sender-Receiver Matching Varies across Species of Apteronotus. eNeuro, 6(2), ENEURO.0392-18.2019.


This article received support from the WVU Libraries' Open Access Author Fund.



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