Loom-sensitive neural circuits characterized in previous lab studies are shown to underlie complex evasive behaviors observed in a natural environment.
The escape response to evade perceived threats is a fundamental behavior seen throughout the animal kingdom, and laboratory studies have identified specialized neural circuits that control this behavior. Understanding how these neural circuits operate in complex natural settings, however, has been a challenge.
A new study led by researchers at UC Santa Cruz and NOAA Fisheries overcame this challenge using a clever experimental design to record and analyze escape responses in coral reef fish. The results, published November 12 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal how a sequence of well-defined decision rules generates evasion behavior in a wide range of coral reef fish species.
"We took an approach used in laboratory studies into a complex, natural environment and found that the same behavioral mechanisms seem to apply. A set of simple rules are combined in different ways to generate a rich suite of behaviors to accomplish this fundamental goal: to avoid being killed," said first author Andrew Hein, an assistant researcher at the UC Santa Cruz Institute of Marine Sciences and research ecologist at the NOAA Fisheries Lab in Santa Cruz.
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Image via Stella Hein