Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 191, Issue 12, pp 1143–1155 | Cite as

Responses of blowfly motion-sensitive neurons to reconstructed optic flow along outdoor flight paths

  • N. BoeddekerEmail author
  • J. P. Lindemann
  • M. Egelhaaf
  • J. Zeil
Original Paper


The retinal image flow a blowfly experiences in its daily life on the wing is determined by both the structure of the environment and the animal’s own movements. To understand the design of visual processing mechanisms, there is thus a need to analyse the performance of neurons under natural operating conditions. To this end, we recorded flight paths of flies outdoors and reconstructed what they had seen, by moving a panoramic camera along exactly the same paths. The reconstructed image sequences were later replayed on a fast, panoramic flight simulator to identified, motion sensitive neurons of the so-called horizontal system (HS) in the lobula plate of the blowfly, which are assumed to extract self-motion parameters from optic flow. We show that under real life conditions HS-cells not only encode information about self-rotation, but are also sensitive to translational optic flow and, thus, indirectly signal information about the depth structure of the environment. These properties do not require an elaboration of the known model of these neurons, because the natural optic flow sequences generate—at least qualitatively—the same depth-related response properties when used as input to a computational HS-cell model and to real neurons.


Optic flow Natural stimuli Motion detection Active vision Behaviour 



The research project was initially supported by a travel grant of the German Science Foundation (DFG) to M.E. and a Visiting Fellowship by the Centre for Visual Sciences (CVS), Australian National University, to N.B. One of the high-speed cameras used in the behavioural experiments was financed by the DFG. The work was subsequently continued with the help of funds from an Emmy-Noether Grant to N.B. (DFG BO 2478/1-1). J.Z. acknowledges initial support from Defence Science and Technology Organization (Eglin Airforce Base) and a Human Frontier Science Project grant (HFSP 84/97). We thank Katharina Siebke for her help as gantry operator and Roland Kern for sharing his expertise in electrophysiological recording techniques and in operating FliMax. We are grateful to Jan Hemmi, Roland Kern, and Mandyam Srinivasan for their constructive comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. Boeddeker
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • J. P. Lindemann
    • 1
  • M. Egelhaaf
    • 1
  • J. Zeil
    • 2
  1. 1.Lehrstuhl NeurobiologieUniversität BielefeldBielefeldGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Visual Sciences, Research School of Biological SciencesAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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