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Published November 2011 | Published + Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Developmentally regulated multisensory integration for prey localization in the medicinal leech


Medicinal leeches, like many aquatic animals, use water disturbances to localize their prey, so they need to be able to determine if a wave disturbance is created by prey or by another source. Many aquatic predators perform this separation by responding only to those wave frequencies representing their prey. As leeches' prey preference changes over the course of their development, we examined their responses at three different life stages. We found that juveniles more readily localize wave sources of lower frequencies (2 Hz) than their adult counterparts (8–12 Hz), and that adolescents exhibited elements of both juvenile and adult behavior, readily localizing sources of both frequencies. Leeches are known to be able to localize the source of waves through the use of either mechanical or visual information. We separately characterized their ability to localize various frequencies of stimuli using unimodal cues. Within a single modality, the frequency–response curves of adults and juveniles were virtually indistinguishable. However, the differences between the responses for each modality (visual and mechanosensory) were striking. The optimal visual stimulus had a much lower frequency (2 Hz) than the optimal mechanical stimulus (12 Hz). These frequencies matched, respectively, the juvenile and the adult preferred frequency for multimodally sensed waves. This suggests that, in the multimodal condition, adult behavior is driven more by mechanosensory information and juvenile behavior more by visual. Indeed, when stimuli of the two modalities were placed in conflict with one another, adult leeches, unlike juveniles, were attracted to the mechanical stimulus much more strongly than to the visual stimulus.

Additional Information

© 2011. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd. Accepted 17 August 2011. We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers in addition to Andrew Steele for their comments, which greatly improved the manuscript. In addition, we thank the Kristan lab for their gift of juvenile leeches. All funding for this work and its authors was supplied by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and The Broad Foundations. Presentation of this work at the Society for Neuroscience meeting was funded by a travel award from The Journal of Experimental Biology.

Attached Files

Published - Harley2011p16328J_Exp_Biol.pdf

Supplemental Material - JEB059618FigS1.pdf


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