The synthesis and use of the owl’s auditory space map
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The barn owl (Tyto alba) is capable of capturing prey by passive hearing alone, guided by a topographic map of auditory space in the external nucleus of its inferior colliculus. The neurons of this auditory space map have discrete spatial receptive fields that result from the computation of interaural differences in the level (ILD) and time-of-arrival (ITD) of sounds. Below we review the synthesis of the spatial receptive fields from the frequency-specific ITDs and ILDs to which the neurons are tuned, concentrating on recent studies exploiting virtual auditory space techniques to analyze the contribution of ILD. We then compared the owl’s spatial discrimination, assessed behaviorally, with that of its space map neurons. Spatial discrimination was assessed using a novel paradigm involving the pupillary dilation response (PDR), and neuronal acuity was assessed by measuring the changes in firing rate resulting from changes in source location, scaled to the variance. This signal-detection-based approach revealed that the change in the position of the neural image on this map best explains the spatial discrimination measured using the PDR. We compare this result to recent studies in mammalian systems.
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