Object discrimination through active electrolocation: Shape recognition and the influence of electrical noise

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2016
Authors:Schumacher, S, de Perera, TBurt, von der Emde, G
Journal:Journal of Physiology-Paris
Date Published:Jan-12-2016

The weakly electric fish Gnathonemus petersii can recognise objects using active electrolocation. Here, we tested two aspects of object recognition; first whether shape recognition might be influenced by movement of the fish, and second whether object discrimination is affected by the presence of electrical noise from conspecifics. (i) Unlike other object features, such as size or volume, no parameter within a single electrical image has been found that encodes object shape. We investigated whether shape recognition might be facilitated by movement-induced modulations (MIM) of the set of electrical images that are created as a fish swims past an object. Fish were trained to discriminate between pairs of objects that either created similar or dissimilar levels of MIM of the electrical images. As predicted, the fish were able to discriminate between objects up to a longer distance if there was a large difference in MIM between the objects than if there was a small difference. This supports an involvement of MIMs in shape recognition but the use of other cues cannot be excluded. (ii) Electrical noise might impair object recognition if the noise signals overlap with the EODs of an electrolocating fish. To avoid jamming, we predicted that fish might employ pulsing strategies to prevent overlaps. To investigate the influence of electrical noise on discrimination performance, two fish were tested either in the presence of a conspecific or of playback signals and the electric signals were recorded during the experiments. The fish were surprisingly immune to jamming by conspecifics: While the discrimination performance of one fish dropped to chance level when more than 22% of its EODs overlapped with the noise signals, the performance of the other fish was not impaired even when all its EODs overlapped. Neither of the fish changed their pulsing behaviour, suggesting that they did not use any kind of jamming avoidance strategy.

Short Title:Journal of Physiology-Paris
Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith