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What singing fruit flies can tell us about quick decisions
Date:3/20/2014

You wouldn't hear the mating song of the male fruit fly as you reached for the infested bananas in your kitchen. Yet, the neural activity behind the insect's amorous call could help scientists understand how you made the quick decision to pull your hand back from the tiny swarm.

Male fruit flies base the pitch and tempo of their mating song on the movement and behavior of their desired female, Princeton University researchers have discovered. In the animal kingdom, lusty warblers such as birds typically have a mating song with a stereotyped pattern. A fruit fly's song, however, is an unordered series of loud purrs and soft drones made by wing vibrations, the researchers reported in the journal Nature. A male adjusts his song in reaction to his specific environment, which in this case is the distance and speed of a female the faster and farther away she's moving, the louder he "sings."

While the actors are small, the implications of these findings could be substantial for understanding rapid decision-making, explained corresponding author Mala Murthy, a Princeton assistant professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. Fruit flies are a common model for studying the systems of more advanced beings such as humans, and have the basic components of more complex nervous systems, she said.

The researchers have provided a possible tool for studying the neural pathways behind how an organism engaged in a task adjusts its behavior to sudden changes, be it a leopard chasing a zigzagging gazelle, or a commuter navigating stop-and-go traffic, Murthy said. She and her co-authors created a model that could predict a fly's choice of song in response to its changing environment, and identified the neural pathways involved in these decisions.

"Here we have natural courtship behavior and we have this discovery that males are using information about their sensory environment in real time to shape their song. T
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Contact: Morgan Kelly
mgnkelly@princeton.edu
609-258-5729
Princeton University
Source:Eurekalert  

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