Interactions among animals can result in complex sensory signals containing a variety of socially relevant information, including the number, identity, and relative motion of conspecifics. How the spatiotemporal properties of such evolving naturalistic signals are encoded is a key question in sensory neuroscience. Here, we present results from experiments and modeling that address this issue in the context of the electric sense, which combines the spatial aspects of vision and touch, with the temporal aspects of audition. Wave-type electric fish, such as the brown ghost knifefish, Apteronotus leptorhynchus, used in this study, are uniquely identified by the frequency of their electric organ discharge (EOD). Multiple beat frequencies arise from the superposition of the EODs of each fish. We record the natural electrical signals near the skin of a "receiving" fish that are produced by stationary and freely swimming conspecifics. Using spectral analysis, we find that the primary beats, and the secondary beats between them ("beats of beats"), can be greatly influenced by fish swimming; the resulting motion produces low-frequency envelopes that broaden all the beat peaks and reshape the "noise floor". We assess the consequences of this motion on sensory coding using a model electroreceptor. We show that the primary and secondary beats are encoded in the afferent spike train, but that motion acts to degrade this encoding. We also simulate the response of a realistic population of receptors, and find that it can encode the motion envelope well, primarily due to the receptors with lower firing rates. We discuss the implications of our results for the identification of conspecifics through specific beat frequencies and its possible hindrance by active swimming. © 2012 Yu et al.
Yu, N., Hupé, G., Garfinkle, C., Lewis, J. E., & Longtin, A. (2012). Coding conspecific identity and motion in the electric sense. PLoS Computational Biology, 8(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002564