Multisensory Integration and Behavioral Plasticity in Sharks

paper3Published on 02. April 2014

Multisensory Integration and Behavioral Plasticity in Sharks from Different Ecological Niches

Jayne M. Gardiner, Jelle Atema, Robert E. Hueter, Philip J. Motta


The underwater sensory world and the sensory systems of aquatic animals have become better understood in recent decades, but typically have been studied one sense at a time. A comprehensive analysis of multisensory interactions during complex behavioral tasks has remained a subject of discussion without experimental evidence. We set out to generate a general model of multisensory information extraction by aquatic animals. For our model we chose to analyze the hierarchical, integrative, and sometimes alternate use of various sensory systems during the feeding sequence in three species of sharks that differ in sensory anatomy and behavioral ecology. By blocking senses in different combinations, we show that when some of their normal sensory cues were unavailable, sharks were often still capable of successfully detecting, tracking and capturing prey by switching to alternate sensory modalities. While there were significant species differences, odor was generally the first signal detected, leading to upstream swimming and wake tracking. Closer to the prey, as more sensory cues became available, the preferred sensory modalities varied among species, with vision, hydrodynamic imaging, electroreception, and touch being important for orienting to, striking at, and capturing the prey. Experimental deprivation of senses showed how sharks exploit the many signals that comprise their sensory world, each sense coming into play as they provide more accurate information during the behavioral sequence of hunting. The results may be applicable to aquatic hunting in general and, with appropriate modification, to other types of animal behavior.

PLoS ONE 9(4): e93036. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093036



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