European starlings use their acute vision to check on feline predators but not on conspecifics.
ABSTRACT: Head movements allow birds with laterally placed eyes to move their centers of acute vision around and align them with objects of interest. Consequently, head movements have been used as indicator of fixation behavior (where gaze is maintained). However, studies on head movement behavior have not elucidated the degree to which birds use high-acuity or low-acuity vision. We studied how European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) used high-acuity vision in the early stages of visual exploration of a stuffed cat (common terrestrial predator), a taxidermy Cooper's hawk (common aerial predator), and a stuffed study skin of a conspecific. We found that starlings tended to use their high acuity vision when looking at predators, particularly, the cat was above chance levels. However, when they viewed a conspecific, they used high acuity vision as expected by chance. We did not observe a preference for the left or right center of acute vision. Our findings suggest that starlings exposed to a predator (particularly cats) may employ selective attention by using high-acuity vision to obtain quickly detailed information useful for a potential escape, but exposed to a social context may use divided attention by allocating similar levels high- and low-quality vision to monitor both conspecifics and the rest of the environment.
Project description:Looking where others are allocating attention can facilitate social interactions by providing information about objects or locations of interest. We asked whether European starlings follow the orientation behaviour of conspecifics owing to their highly gregarious behaviour. Starlings reoriented their attention to follow that of a robot around a barrier more often than when the robot's attention was directed elsewhere. This is the first empirical evidence of reorienting in response to conspecific attention in a songbird. Starlings may use this behaviour to obtain fine-tuned spatial information from conspecifics (e.g. direction of predator approach, spatial location of food patches), enhancing group cohesion.
Project description:Social learning is often assumed to help young animals respond appropriately to potential threats in the environment. We brought wild, juvenile jackdaws briefly into captivity to test whether short exposures to conspecific vocalizations are sufficient to promote anti-predator learning. Individuals were presented with one of two models-a stuffed fox representing a genuine threat, or a toy elephant simulating a novel predator. Following an initial baseline presentation, juveniles were trained by pairing models with either adult mobbing calls, indicating danger, or contact calls suggesting no danger. In a final test phase with no playbacks, birds appeared to have habituated to the elephant, regardless of training, but responses to the fox remained high throughout, suggesting juveniles already recognized it as a predator before the experiment began. Training with mobbing calls did seem to generate elevated escape responses, but this was likely to be a carry-over effect of the playback in the previous trial. Overall, we found little evidence for social learning. Instead, individuals' responses were mainly driven by their level of agitation immediately preceding each presentation. These results highlight the importance of accounting for agitation in studies of anti-predator learning, and whenever animals are held in captivity for short periods.
Project description:Animals move their heads and eyes to compensate for movements of the body and background, search, fixate, and track objects visually. Avian saccadic head/eye movements have been shown to vary considerably between species. We tested the hypothesis that the configuration of the retina (i.e., changes in retinal ganglion cell density from the retinal periphery to the center of acute vision-fovea) would account for the inter-specific variation in avian head/eye movement behavior. We characterized retinal configuration, head movement rate, and degree of eye movement of 29 bird species with a single fovea, controlling for the effects of phylogenetic relatedness. First, we found the avian fovea is off the retinal center towards the dorso-temporal region of the retina. Second, species with a more pronounced rate of change in ganglion cell density across the retina generally showed a higher degree of eye movement and higher head movement rate likely because a smaller retinal area with relatively high visual acuity leads to greater need to move the head/eye to align this area that contains the fovea with objects of interest. Our findings have implications for anti-predator behavior, as many predator-prey interaction models assume that the sensory system of prey (and hence their behavior) varies little between species.
Project description:Unlearned tendencies to approach animate creatures are of great adaptive value, especially for nidifugous social birds that need to react to the presence of potential social companions shortly after hatching. Domestic chicks' preferences for taxidermized hens provided the first evidence of social predispositions. However, the nature of the stimuli eliciting this predisposition is not completely understood. Here we explore the unlearned preferences of visually naïve domestic chicks for taxidermized animals. Visually naive chicks were tested for their approach preferences between a target stimulus (an intact stuffed animal whose head region was clearly visible) and a control stimulus. After confirming the predisposition for the intact stuffed fowl hen (Exp. 1), we found an analogous preference for a taxidermized, young domestic chick over a severely scrambled version of the same stimulus, whose body structure was completely disrupted, extending to same-age individuals the results that had been obtained with taxidermized hens (Exp. 2). We also directly tested preferences for specimens whose head region is visible compared to ones whose head region was occluded. To clarify whether chicks are sensitive to species-specific information, we employed specimens of female mallard ducks and of a mammalian predator, the polecat. Chicks showed a preference for the duck stimulus whose wings have been covered over a similar stimulus whose head region has been covered, providing direct evidence that the visibility of the head region of taxidermized models drive chicks' behaviour in this test, and that the attraction for the head region indeed extends to females of other bird species (Exp. 3). However, no similar preference was obtained with the polecat stimuli (Exp. 4). We thus confirmed the presence of unlearned visual preferences for the head region in newly-hatched chicks, though other factors can limit the species-generality of the phenomenon.
Project description:The confusion effect describes the phenomenon of decreasing predator attack success with increasing prey group size. However, there is a paucity of research into the influence of this effect in coherent groups, such as flocks of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Here, for the first time, we use a computer game style experiment to investigate the confusion effect in three dimensions. To date, computerized studies on the confusion effect have used two-dimensional simulations with simplistic prey movement and dynamics. Our experiment is the first investigation of the effects of flock size and density on the ability of a (human) predator to track and capture a target starling in a realistically simulated three-dimensional flock of starlings. In line with the predictions of the confusion effect, modelled starlings appear to be safer from predation in larger and denser flocks. This finding lends credence to previous suggestions that starling flocks have anti-predator benefits and, more generally, it suggests that active increases in density in animal groups in response to predation may increase the effectiveness of the confusion effect.
Project description:The neural representations associated with learned auditory behaviours, such as recognizing individuals based on their vocalizations, are not well described. Higher vertebrates learn to recognize complex conspecific vocalizations that comprise sequences of easily identified, naturally occurring auditory objects, which should facilitate the analysis of higher auditory pathways. Here we describe the first example of neurons selective for learned conspecific vocalizations in adult animals--in starlings that have been trained operantly to recognize conspecific songs. The neuronal population is found in a non-primary forebrain auditory region, exhibits increased responses to the set of learned songs compared with novel songs, and shows differential responses to categories of learned songs based on recognition training contingencies. Within the population, many cells respond highly selectively to a subset of specific motifs (acoustic objects) present only in the learned songs. Such neuronal selectivity may contribute to song-recognition behaviour, which in starlings is sensitive to motif identity. In this system, both top-down and bottom-up processes may modify the tuning properties of neurons during recognition learning, giving rise to plastic representations of behaviourally meaningful auditory objects.
Project description:Learning to recognize complex sensory signals can change the way they are perceived. European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) recognize other starlings by their song, which consists of a series of complex, stereotyped motifs. Song recognition learning is accompanied by plasticity in secondary auditory areas, suggesting that perceptual learning is involved. Here, to investigate whether perceptual learning can be observed behaviorally, a same-different operant task was used to measure how starlings perceived small differences in motif structure. Birds trained to recognize conspecific songs were better at detecting variations in motifs from the songs they learned, even though this variation was not directly necessary to learn the associative task. Discrimination also improved as the reference stimulus was repeated multiple times. Perception of the much larger differences between different motifs was unaffected by training. These results indicate that sensory representations of motifs are enhanced when starlings learn to recognize songs.
Project description:Many species of fish rely on their visual systems to interact with conspecifics and these interactions can lead to collective behavior. Individual-based models have been used to predict collective interactions; however, these models generally make simplistic assumptions about the sensory systems that are applied without proper empirical testing to different species. This could limit our ability to predict (and test empirically) collective behavior in species with very different sensory requirements. In this study, we characterized components of the visual system in two species of cyprinid fish known to engage in visually dependent collective interactions (zebrafish Danio rerio and golden shiner Notemigonus crysoleucas) and derived quantitative predictions about the positioning of individuals within schools. We found that both species had relatively narrow binocular and blind fields and wide visual coverage. However, golden shiners had more visual coverage in the vertical plane (binocular field extending behind the head) and higher visual acuity than zebrafish. The centers of acute vision (areae) of both species projected in the fronto-dorsal region of the visual field, but those of the zebrafish projected more dorsally than those of the golden shiner. Based on this visual sensory information, we predicted that: (a) predator detection time could be increased by >1,000% in zebrafish and >100% in golden shiners with an increase in nearest neighbor distance, (b) zebrafish schools would have a higher roughness value (surface area/volume ratio) than those of golden shiners, (c) and that nearest neighbor distance would vary from 8 to 20 cm to visually resolve conspecific striping patterns in both species. Overall, considering between-species differences in the sensory system of species exhibiting collective behavior could change the predictions about the positioning of individuals in the group as well as the shape of the school, which can have implications for group cohesion. We suggest that more effort should be invested in assessing the role of the sensory system in shaping local interactions driving collective behavior.
Project description:SIGNIFICANCE:Head-mounted low vision devices have received considerable attention in recent years owing to rapidly developing technology, facilitating ease of use and functionality. Systematic clinical evaluations of such devices remain rare but are needed to steer future device development. PURPOSE:The purpose of this study was to investigate, in a multicenter prospective trial, the short- and medium-term effects of a head-worn vision enhancement device (eSight Eyewear). METHODS:Participants aged 13 to 75 years with stable vision (distance acuity, 20/60 to 20/400; visual field diameter >20°) were recruited across six sites. Data were collected at baseline (no device), at fitting (with device), and after 3 months of everyday use. Outcome measures were visual ability measured by the Veterans Affairs Low Vision Visual Functioning Questionnaire 48, distance acuity (Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study), reading performance (MNREAD chart), contrast sensitivity (MARS chart), face recognition, and a modified version of the Melbourne Low Vision Activities of Daily Living (ADL) Index. RESULTS:Among the 51 participants, eSight introduction immediately improved distance acuity (0.74 ± 0.28 logMAR), contrast sensitivity (0.57 ± 0.53 log units), and critical print size (0.52 ± 0.43 logMAR), all P < .001, without any further change after 3 months; reading acuity improved at fitting (0.56 ± 0.35 logMAR) and by one additional line after 3 months, whereas reading speed only slightly increased across all three time points. The Melbourne ADL score and face recognition improved at fitting (P < .01) with trends toward further improvement at 3 months. After 3 months of use, Veterans Affairs Low Vision Visual Functioning Questionnaire 48 person measures (in logits) improved: overall, 0.84, P < .001; reading, 2.75, P < .001; mobility, 0.04, not statistically significant; visual information, 1.08, P < .001; and visual motor, 0.48, P = .02. CONCLUSIONS:eSight introduction yields immediate improvements in visual ability, with face recognition and ADLs showing a tentative benefit of further use. Overall, visual ability, reading, and visual information showed greatest benefit with device use. Further studies need to examine benefits of practice and training and possible differential effects of underlying pathology or baseline vision.
Project description:Visual prostheses for the restoration of functional vision are currently under development. To guide prosthesis research and allow for an accurate prognosis of functional gain, simulating the experience of a retinal prosthesis in healthy individuals is desirable. Current simulation paradigms lack crucial aspects of the prosthetic experience such as realistic head- and eye-position-dependent image presentation. We developed a simulation paradigm that used a head-mounted camera and eye tracker to lock the simulation to the point of fixation. We evaluated visual acuity, object recognition and manipulation, and wayfinding under simulated prosthetic vision. We explored three ways of optimizing the information content of the prosthetic visual image: Full-Field representation (wide visual angle, low sampling frequency), Region of Interest (ROI; narrow visible angle, high sampling frequency), and Fisheye (high sampling frequency in the center, progressively lower resolution toward the edges). Full-Field representation facilitated visual search and navigation, whereas ROI improved visual acuity. The Fisheye representation, designed to incorporate the benefits of both Full-Field representation and ROI, performed similarly to ROI with subjects unable to capitalize on the peripheral data. The observation that different image representation conditions prove advantageous for different tasks should be taken into account in the process of designing and testing new visual prosthesis prototypes.