Active sensing via movement shapes spatiotemporal patterns of sensory feedback

Sarah A. Stamper, Eatai Roth, Noah J. Cowan, Eric S. Fortune

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1567-1574
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


  • Active sensing
  • Electroreception
  • Sensory volume
  • Shaping


Dive into the research topics of 'Active sensing via movement shapes spatiotemporal patterns of sensory feedback'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this