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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.
Approach - Studies - Environment - Mechanisms - Set
"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.
The coral reef fish in the study feed on algae in shallow reef flats, where they are vulnerable to predators such as moray eels and reef sharks. To simulate a threat, the researchers employed a widely used visual stimulus called the looming stimulus, a black dot that grows in size slowly and then rapidly, creating the illusion of a rapidly approaching object. A waterproof tablet computer deployed on a coral reef in Mo'orea, French Polynesia, played the looming stimulus, while video cameras recorded the responses of...
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