Real-life spatial behaviors are complex. To study the neural mechanisms that support ethologically relevant forms of navigation we utilize an exquisite aerial navigator – the bat, and study its relevant neural circuits using a combination of cutting-edge behavioral and neurophysiological methodologies. At the behavioral level, we developed a fully automated flight room where either a single bat or multiple bats can engage in natural and unconstrained forms of navigation. Utilizing an array of high-speed video cameras, real-time tracking systems and ultrasonic microphones we can carefully monitor the position, motion and sensory signals of the navigating bats at fine spatial and temporal resolutions. We combine this with the utilization of wireless electrophysiological recordings methods in single and multi-animal settings as well as with our recent establishment of wireless calcium imaging methods in freely flying bats. We further beginning to incorporate tools for causal manipulation in bats, such as optogenetics, which allow us to begin addressing the necessity and sufficiency of neural circuits during complex spatial behaviors. Combining these approaches, we aim to study how mammalian neural circuits participate and contribute to complex spatial behaviors at both the individual and group level.
Group Sociality and Communication
Many creatures, including humans, naturally live in groups and form social memories of one another. Yet, we rarely study the brain under natural group social conditions. Bats are well suited for this study as they are long-lived mammals (25-40 years) that spend the majority of their lives in group social living conditions. Additionally, they have evolved a dedicated vocal communication system (separate from their echolocation
abilities) that is exclusively utilized for social interaction. To do so, we established multi-animal wireless neural recordings and behavioral monitoring systems that allow us to fully leverage the natural collective behaviors of bats. We are therefore presented with a unique opportunity to study the neural computations underlying group social behavior and communication under a variety of ethologically relevant conditions.
Vocal Plasticity and Learning
Acoustic communication between individuals is necessary for survival. Under real-life conditions conditions, such interactions are usually bidirectional, employ the usage of diverse species-specific communication signals and often occur between individuals of varying social bonds. In some rare cases, as is the case for humans, these acoustic signals are learned. Our species of bats possess a rich and diverse vocabulary of different acoustic communication signals that are used during social interactions between individuals. Further, unlike the overwhelming majority of non-human mammals, the bat vocalizations are potentially learned from conspecifics. This unique feature allows us to study the detailed mammalian neural circuits supporting this core human function.
Building on our recent development of behavioral and neurophysiological methods we aim to understand how these signals are learned and then used under natural social conditions.
Miniaturized Wireless Electrophysiology
Circuit Mapping Using Tracing and Molecular Methods
Miniaturized Calcium Imaging
We are grateful for the generous support of our research through the following organizations: