Neuroethology and Biomechanics of Insect Flight and Animal Locomotion
I am a neuroethologist interested in how animals produce adaptive behaviours. Any insect that flies at night is at risk of predation from insectivorous bats and many possess relatively simple ears for detecting the echolocation calls of bats. Upon detecting the calls of an approaching bat, volant insects such as moths and locusts typically activate defence mechanisms that will remove them from the path of the approaching bat. These defences include changes in body posture and wing kinematics that shift the balance of aerodynamic forces at play effecting a change in flight path. Insects, owing to their relatively simple nervous systems and simple ears, provide an excellent model to study auditory sensorimotor integration mechanisms and the aerodynamic mechanisms necessary for stability and control during rapid escape manoeuvres.
We are just beginning to understand how insects fly and how insects hear and process auditory information. Leading edge research efforts are elucidating the discriminatory mechanisms that insects use for processing sound, the aerodynamic mechanisms insects use for abrupt changes in direction (escape), and most importantly, how this afferent information is integrated with an ongoing flight motor program. These research interests span two seemingly disparate fields – neuroethology and biomechanics, however, between these two fields are fruitful opportunities for collaborative research and the development of new technologies.
Yack, J.E., Dawson, J. (2007) Insect ears, In: The Senses: A Comprehensive Reference, (Eds. Hoy, R.R., Shepherd, G.M., Basbaum, A.I., Kaneko, A., and Westheimer, G.) (In press)
Dawson, J. W., Leung, F., and Robertson, R. M. (2004) Acoustic startle/escape reactions in tethered flying locusts: Motor patterns and wing kinematics underlying intentional steering. Journal of Comparative Physiology A 190:581-600
Asi, N.S., Fullard, J.H., Whitehead, S., and Dawson, J.W.(2009) No neural evidence for dynamic auditory tuning of the A1 receptor in the ear of the noctuid moth, Noctua pronuba. Journal of Comparative Physiology A 195:955-960