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6 Publications

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    02/15/13 | Visual motion speed determines a behavioral switch from forward flight to expansion avoidance in Drosophila.
    Reiser MB, Dickinson MH
    The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2013 Feb 15;216:719-32. doi: 10.1242/jeb.074732

    As an animal translates through the world, its eyes will experience a radiating pattern of optic flow in which there is a focus of expansion directly in front and a focus of contraction behind. For flying fruit flies, recent experiments indicate that flies actively steer away from patterns of expansion. Whereas such a reflex makes sense for avoiding obstacles, it presents a paradox of sorts because an insect could not navigate stably through a visual scene unless it tolerated flight towards a focus of expansion during episodes of forward translation. One possible solution to this paradox is that a fly’s behavior might change such that it steers away from strong expansion, but actively steers towards weak expansion. In this study, we use a tethered flight arena to investigate the influence of stimulus strength on the magnitude and direction of turning responses to visual expansion in flies. These experiments indicate that the expansion-avoidance behavior is speed dependent. At slower speeds of expansion, flies exhibit an attraction to the focus of expansion, whereas the behavior transforms to expansion avoidance at higher speeds. Open-loop experiments indicate that this inversion of the expansion-avoidance response depends on whether or not the head is fixed to the thorax. The inversion of the expansion-avoidance response with stimulus strength has a clear manifestation under closed-loop conditions. Flies will actively orient towards a focus of expansion at low temporal frequency but steer away from it at high temporal frequency. The change in the response with temporal frequency does not require motion stimuli directly in front or behind the fly. Animals in which the stimulus was presented within 120 deg sectors on each side consistently steered towards expansion at low temporal frequency and steered towards contraction at high temporal frequency. A simple model based on an array of Hassenstein-Reichardt type elementary movement detectors suggests that the inversion of the expansion-avoidance reflex can explain the spatial distribution of straight flight segments and collision-avoidance saccades when flies fly freely within an open circular arena.

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    05/01/10 | Drosophila fly straight by fixating objects in the face of expanding optic flow.
    Reiser MB, Dickinson MH
    The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2010 May;213(Pt 10):1771-81. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.072

    Flies, like all animals that depend on vision to navigate through the world, must integrate the optic flow created by self-motion with the images generated by prominent features in their environment. Although much is known about the responses of Drosophila melanogaster to rotating flow fields, their reactions to the more complex patterns of motion that occur as they translate through the world are not well understood. In the present study we explore the interactions between two visual reflexes in Drosophila: object fixation and expansion avoidance. As a fly flies forward, it encounters an expanding visual flow field. However, recent results have demonstrated that Drosophila strongly turn away from patterns of expansion. Given the strength of this reflex, it is difficult to explain how flies make forward progress through a visual landscape. This paradox is partially resolved by the finding reported here that when undergoing flight directed towards a conspicuous object, Drosophila will tolerate a level of expansion that would otherwise induce avoidance. This navigation strategy allows flies to fly straight when orienting towards prominent visual features.

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    01/30/08 | A modular display system for insect behavioral neuroscience.
    Reiser MB, Dickinson MH
    Journal of Neuroscience Methods. 2008 Jan 30;167(2):127-39. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.072

    Flying insects exhibit stunning behavioral repertoires that are largely mediated by the visual control of flight. For this reason, presenting a controlled visual environment to tethered insects has been and continues to be a powerful tool for studying the sensory control of complex behaviors. To create an easily controlled, scalable, and customizable visual stimulus, we have designed a modular system, based on panels composed of an 8 x 8 array of individual LEDs, that may be connected together to ’tile’ an experimental environment with controllable displays. The panels have been designed to be extremely bright, with the added flexibility of individual-pixel brightness control, allowing experimentation over a broad range of behaviorally relevant conditions. Patterns to be displayed may be designed using custom software, downloaded to a controller board, and displayed on the individually addressed panels via a rapid communication interface. The panels are controlled by a microprocessor-based display controller which, for most experiments, will not require a computer in the loop, greatly reducing the experimental infrastructure. This technology allows an experimenter to build and program a visual arena with a customized geometry in a matter of hours. To demonstrate the utility of this system, we present results from experiments with tethered Drosophila melanogaster: (1) in a cylindrical arena composed of 44 panels, used to test the contrast dependence of object orientation behavior, and (2) above a 30-panel floor display, used to examine the effects of ground motion on orientation during flight.

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    12/01/07 | The role of visual and mechanosensory cues in structuring forward flight in Drosophila melanogaster.
    Budick SA, Reiser MB, Dickinson MH
    The Journal of Experimental Biology. 2007 Dec;210(Pt 23):4092-103. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.072

    It has long been known that many flying insects use visual cues to orient with respect to the wind and to control their groundspeed in the face of varying wind conditions. Much less explored has been the role of mechanosensory cues in orienting insects relative to the ambient air. Here we show that Drosophila melanogaster, magnetically tethered so as to be able to rotate about their yaw axis, are able to detect and orient into a wind, as would be experienced during forward flight. Further, this behavior is velocity dependent and is likely subserved, at least in part, by the Johnston’s organs, chordotonal organs in the antennae also involved in near-field sound detection. These wind-mediated responses may help to explain how flies are able to fly forward despite visual responses that might otherwise inhibit this behavior. Expanding visual stimuli, such as are encountered during forward flight, are the most potent aversive visual cues known for D. melanogaster flying in a tethered paradigm. Accordingly, tethered flies strongly orient towards a focus of contraction, a problematic situation for any animal attempting to fly forward. We show in this study that wind stimuli, transduced via mechanosensory means, can compensate for the aversion to visual expansion and thus may help to explain how these animals are indeed able to maintain forward flight.

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    07/01/07 | Dynamic properties of large-field and small-field optomotor flight responses in Drosophila.
    Duistermars BJ, Reiser MB, Zhu Y, Frye MA
    Journal of Comparative Physiology. A, Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology. 2007 Jul;193:787-99. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.072

    Optomotor flight control in houseflies shows bandwidth fractionation such that steering responses to an oscillating large-field rotating panorama peak at low frequency, whereas responses to small-field objects peak at high frequency. In fruit flies, steady-state large-field translation generates steering responses that are three times larger than large-field rotation. Here, we examine the optomotor steering reactions to dynamically oscillating visual stimuli consisting of large-field rotation, large-field expansion, and small-field motion. The results show that, like in larger flies, large-field optomotor steering responses peak at low frequency, whereas small-field responses persist under high frequency conditions. However, in fruit flies large-field expansion elicits higher magnitude and tighter phase-locked optomotor responses than rotation throughout the frequency spectrum, which may suggest a further segregation within the large-field pathway. An analysis of wing beat frequency and amplitude reveals that mechanical power output during flight varies according to the spatial organization and motion dynamics of the visual scene. These results suggest that, like in larger flies, the optomotor control system is organized into parallel large-field and small-field pathways, and extends previous analyses to quantify expansion-sensitivity for steering reflexes and flight power output across the frequency spectrum.

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    10/15/03 | A test bed for insect-inspired robotic control.
    Reiser MB, Dickinson MH
    Philosophical Transactions. Series A, Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences. 2003 Oct 15;361(1811):2267-85. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.072

    Flying insects are remarkable examples of sophisticated sensory-motor control systems. Insects have solved the fundamental challenge facing the field of mobile robots: robust sensory-motor mapping. Control models based on insects can contribute much to the design of robotic control systems. We present our work on a preliminary robotic control system inspired by current behavioural and physiological models of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. We designed a five-degrees-of-freedom robotic system that serves as a novel simulation/mobile robot hybrid. This design has allowed us to implement a fly-inspired control system that uses visual and mechanosensory feedback. Our results suggest that a simple control scheme can yield surprisingly robust fly-like robotic behaviour.

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