Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 163, Issue 4, pp 465–478 | Cite as

Sex recognition and neuronal coding of electric organ discharge waveform in the pulse-type weakly electric fish,Hypopomus occidentalis

  • Caroly A. Shumway
  • Randy D. Zelick


  1. 1.

    Hypopomus occidentalis, a weakly electric gymnotiform fish with a pulse-type discharge, has a sexually dimorphic electric organ discharge (Hagedorn 1983). The electric organ discharges (EODs) of males in the breeding season are longer in duration and have a lower peak-power frequency than the EODs of females. We tested reproductively mature fish in the field by presenting electronically generated stimuli in which the only cue for sex recognition was the waveshape of individual EOD-like pulses in a train. We found that gravid females could readily discriminate male-like from female-like EOD waveshapes, and we conclude that this feature of the electric signal is sufficient for sex recognition.

  2. 2.

    To understand the possible neural bases for discrimination of male and female EODs byH. occidentalis, we conducted a neurophysiological examination of both peripheral and central neurons. Our studies show that there are sets of neurons in this species which can discriminate male or female EODs by coding either temporal or spectral features of the EOD.

  3. 3.

    Temporal encoding of stimulus duration was observed in evoked field potential recordings from the magnocellular nucleus of the midbrain torus semicircularis. This nucleus indirectly receives pulse marker electroreceptor information. The field potentials suggest that comparison is possible between pulse marker activity on opposite sides of the body.

  4. 4.

    From standard frequency-threshold curves, spectral encoding of stimulus peak-power frequency was measured in burst duration coder electroreceptor afferents. In both male and female fish, the best frequencies of the narrow-band population of electroreceptors were lower than the peak-power frequency of the EOD. Based on this observation, and the presence of a population of wide-band receptors which can serve as a frequency-independent amplitude reference, a slope-detection model of frequency discrimination is advanced.

  5. 5.

    Spectral discrimination of EOD peak-power frequency was also shown to be possible in a more natural situation similar to that present during behavioral discrimination. As the fish's EOD mimic slowly scanned through and temporally coincided with the neighbor's EOD mimic, peak spike rate in burst duration coder afferents was measured. Spike rate at the moment of coincidence changed predictably as a function of the neighbor's EOD peak-power frequency.

  6. 6.

    Single-unit threshold measurements were made on afferents from peripheral burst duration coder receptors in the amplitude-coding pathway, and midbrain giant cells in the time-coding pathway. The amplitude-coding pathway was more sensitive to a transverse signal mimicking the EOD of a neighbor than the time-coding pathway, despite, in the latter case, increased convergence at the midbrain level.

  7. 7.

    Measurements of the sensitivity and spectral tuning characteristics of afferents from burst duration coder electroreceptors show that elements of the amplitude-coding pathway, when considered on a population level, are capable of encoding EOD peak-power frequencies to the extent necessary to account for our behavioral observations. We conclude thatH. occidentalis has the capability to discriminate male from female EOD pulse shape using both temporal and spectral cues, but that frequency discrimination based on spectral tuning of electroreceptors is the most likely neuronal mechanism.



Spike Rate Electric Organ Discharge Frequency Discrimination Spectral Tuning Weakly Electric Fish 
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electric organ discharge


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroly A. Shumway
    • 1
  • Randy D. Zelick
    • 2
  1. 1.Neurobiology Unit A-002, Scripps Institution of OceanographyUniversity of CaliforniaSan Diego, La JollaUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA

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