University of Washington postdoctoral fellow Eatai Roth, working in the lab of NIFTI Director Tom Daniel, recently published a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on how multiple types of sensory information are used by hawkmoths to govern flight behavior. The paper, entitled “Integration of parallel mechanosensory and visual pathways resolved through sensory conflict”, describes work that investigated how moths combine sensory cues to follow the motion of wavering flowers while feeding.
While hovering in front of a flower, a feeding moth receives information about how the flower is moving from two sensory modalities: visual information from the eye and mechanosensory information from the proboscis in contact with the flower. By building a two-part artificial flower that allows for independent manipulation of visual and mechanosensory cues, Roth et al. disentangled the contribution of each sensory modality to the moth’s flower-following behavior. They found that the brain linearly sums information from the visual and mechanosensory domains to maintain this behavior. They further demonstrated that either sensory modality alone would be sufficient for this behavior, and this redundancy makes the behavior robust to changes in the availability of sensory information.
This work furthers NIFTI’s second research thrust on sensory architecture and processing, and provides a better understanding of how multiple sensory modalities are used in nature to govern complex behaviors.
This research was also featured in a UW Today article, “Tricking moths into revealing the computational underpinnings of sensory integration”.