Sensory-motor integration in Gnathonemus petersii - WCUB, ENWW

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP


The relationship between sensory and motor systems is fundamental to understanding animal behaviour. Sensory systems inform an animal on how it should behave in a given situation. In turn, an animal's own actions can sculpt the sensory information available. Both sensory and motor systems work to increase an animal's success (e.g. in terms of finding food, evading predators, or obtaining a mate). The weakly electric fish, Gnathonemus petersii, is an excellent model for studying this interaction. It possesses an electrosensory system which is associated with a number of motor actions thought to change the sensory flow present. I hope to unravel this interdependency by using techniques across a number of disciplines (e.g. mechanics, neuroscience, psychology and zoology). I believe that it is necessary to take an interdisciplinary approach in order to understand the interaction at all levels (from neurons to organisms as a whole). As such, this research falls into the BBSRC remit of 'Integrative Animal and Plant Biology' which aims to understand 'how biological processes function in an integrate and dynamic way within tissues and organisms' in the hopes of using these principles to solve problems being faced by the wider world.


10 25 50

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011224/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1810111 Studentship BB/M011224/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2020 Sarah Emily Skeels
Title BBC4's Secrets of Skin: Episode 4 (Communication) 
Description I was involved in a BBC4 documentary called 'Secrets of Skin' that was released at the end of last year. The focus of this natural history series was to highlight the variety of skin across the Animal Kingdom and its many uses. I was involved in an episode on communication. In the episode, I demonstrated and explained how weakly electric fish are able to communicate with one another using self-generated electric signals, and how their skin facilitates this process. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact From what I gather, Secrets of Skin was very well received by both the BBC and its audience. It was a great privilege to be involved in this series as it allowed me to share my research on a much bigger stage. Indeed, I've actually had people, friends and strangers alike, who have come up to me saying how much they enjoyed my segment and how they have a new appreciation for fish and what they are able to do. These comments have made all the hard work worth it. 
Title The hidden electrical landscape of Gnathonemus petersii 
Description Type of work: Digital artwork Description of work: Head illustration of the weakly electric fish, Gnathonemus petersii. This fish produces pulse type electric organ discharges to perceive local objects in the environment. The head and Schauzenorgan (chin appendage) are heavily textured as these areas are densely packed with electroreceptors, which are used to detect changes in the electric fields generated. This sensory apparatus is easily overlooked at a glance (despite its importance) along with the brilliant colours these fish possess. My aim for this illustration was to highlight these features. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact I submitted this piece of work for the art competition at the International Congress of Neuroethology in Brisbane last summer and it was shortlisted for display during the conference. 
Description One year student bursary from the Zoology Department to fund the extra time given to complete my research. This time was given to make up for time lost due to the Tinbergen building closure which resulted in the Department being relocated.
Amount £15,009 (GBP)
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2019 
End 09/2020
Description University of Bonn Collaboration 
Organisation University of Bonn
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My main supervisor (Dr Theresa Burt de Perera) has had ties with the University of Bonn since 2011. She jointly supervised a PhD student in Bonn (Sarah Schumacher) alongside Prof Dr Gerhard von der Emde, who is the head of the Neuroethology/Sensory Ecology lab in Bonn. Dr Burt de Perera was involved in the design, implementation, and analysis of the student's experiments. She was also involved in the writing up process. The student graduated last year, so I am currently the only student being co-supervised by them. I am designing, running, and analysing behaviour experiments with their guidance. I am hoping to write up my first series of experiments for publication in the next few months with their help.
Collaborator Contribution Prof Dr von der Emde is my secondary supervisor and has provided advice on the design, implementation and analysis of my experiments here in Oxford. I have visited his lab on two occasions so far to learn how they carry out and analyse similar experiments. This has been invaluable since no one in my lab in Oxford is running experiments quite like mine, and so I have had to look outside the lab for guidance. Prof von der Emde's lab has also helped me in acquiring equipment for my experiments (e.g. training and testing objects).
Impact The papers listed are the result of collaboration between Dr Burt de Perera, Prof Dr von der Emde and the PhD student described above: 1) 10.1073/pnas.1603120113, 2) 10.1016/j.jphysparis.2016.11.008, 3) 10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.07.016, and 4) doi:10.1038/srep43665. Note this work was done largely before I started my DPhil at Oxford, and so I had no involvement in it. I'm mentioning the work though as it provides context for my participation in the collaboration.
Start Year 2011