Novelty detection and context dependent processing of sky-compass cues in the brain of the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria
NERVOUS SYSTEMS facilitate purposeful interactions between animals and their environment, based on the perceptual powers, cognition and higher motor control. Through goal-directed behavior, the animal aims to increase its advantage and minimize risk. For instance, the migratory desert locust should...
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|Summary:||NERVOUS SYSTEMS facilitate purposeful interactions between animals and their environment, based on the perceptual powers, cognition and higher motor control. Through goal-directed behavior, the animal aims to increase its advantage and minimize risk. For instance, the migratory desert locust should profit from being fast in finding a fresh habitat, thus minimizing the investment of bodily resources in locomotion as well as the risk of starvation or capture by a predator en route. Efficient solutions to this and similar tasks – be it finding your way to work, the daily foraging of worker bees or the seasonal long-range migration of monarch butterflies - strongly depend on spatial orientation in local or global frames of reference. Local settings may include visual landmarks at stable positions that can be mapped onto egocentric space and learned for orientation, e.g. to remember a short route to a source of benefit (e.g. food) that is distant or visually less salient than the landmarks. Compass signals can mediate orientation to a global reference-frame (allothetic orienation), e.g. for locomotion in a particular compass direction or to merely ensure motion along a straight line. Whilst spatial orientation is a prerequisite of doing the planned in such tasks, animal survival in general depends on the ability to adequately respond to the unexpected, i.e. to unpredicted events such as the approach of a predator or mate. The process of identifying relevant events in the outside world that are not predictable from preceding events is termed novelty detection. Yet, the definition of ‘novelty’ is highly contextual: depending on the current situation and goal, some changes may be irrelevant and remain ´undetected´.
The present thesis describes neuronal representations of a compass stimulus, correlates of novelty detection and interactions between the two in the minute brain of an insect, the migratory desert locust Schistocerca gregaria. Experiments were carried out in tethered locusts with legs and wings removed. More precisely, adult male subjects in the gregarious phase (see phase theory, Uvarov 1966) that migrates in swarms across territories in North Africa and the Middle East were used. The author performed electrophysiological recordings from single neurons in the locust brain, while either the compass stimulus (Chapter I) or events in the visual scenery (Chapter II) or combinations of both (Chapter III) were being presented to the animal. Injections of a tracer through the recording electrode, visualized by means of fluorescent-dye coupling, allowed the allocation of cellular morphologies to previously described types of neuron or the characterization of novel cell types, respectively. Recordings were focused on cells of the central complex, a higher integration area in the insect brain that was shown to be involved in the visually mediated control of goal-directed locomotion. Experiments delivered insights into how representations of the compass cue are modulated in a manner suited for their integration in the control of goal-directed locomotion. In particular, an interaction between compass-signaling and novelty detection was found, corresponding to a process in which input in one sensory domain (object vision) modulates the processing of concurrent input to a different exteroceptive sensory system (compass sense). In addition to deepening the understanding of the compass network in the locust brain, the results reveal fundamental parallels to higher context-dependent processing of sensory information by the vertebrate cortex, both with respect to spatial cues and novelty detection.|