Evidence for mutual allocation of social attention through interactive signaling in a mormyrid weakly electric fish
Tim Landgraf, Martin Worm, Julia Prume, Hai Nguyen – 2018
Mormyrid weakly electric fish produce electric organ discharges (EODs) for active electrolocation and electrocommunication. These pulses are emitted with variable interdischarge intervals (IDIs) resulting in temporal discharge patterns and interactive signaling episodes with nearby conspecifics. However, unequivocal assignment of interactive signaling to a specific behavioral context has proven to be challenging. Using an ethorobotical approach, we confronted single individuals of weakly electric Mormyrus rume proboscirostris with a mobile fish robot capable of interacting both physically, on arbitrary trajectories, as well as electrically, by generating echo responses through playback of species-specific EODs, thus synchronizing signals with the fish. Interactive signaling by the fish was more pronounced in response to a dynamic echo playback generated by the robot than in response to playback of static random IDI sequences. Such synchronizations were particularly strong at a distance corresponding to the outer limit of active electrolocation, and when fish oriented toward the fish replica. We therefore argue that interactive signaling through echoing of a conspecific's EODs provides a simple mechanism by which weakly electric fish can specifically address nearby individuals during electrocommunication. Echoing may thus enable mormyrids to mutually allocate social attention and constitute a foundation for complex social behavior and relatively advanced cognitive abilities in a basal vertebrate lineage.