What is NeuroEcology?
Ecologists study the behavioral interactions between animals and their environments. Neuroscientists study how the brain shapes animal behavior. Although these two disciplines focus on two sides of the same coin, behavior, information flow between them is limited, thus restricting our knowledge of how neural mechanisms discovered in sterile laboratory conditions relate to the natural behavior of animals in the wild. We aim to address this gap by simulating the natural environment in the lab and by using miniature technologies that enable us to conduct controlled experiments with animals in the wild. We are interested in a wide range of fundamental behaviors including long and short-range navigation, social networks and collective behavior, sensory decision making, inter-sensory integration, and vocal communication, as well as bio-sonar and bio-inspired robotics.
There are more than 1200 species of bats, each of which offers unique opportunities for studying fundamental behaviors driven by different and specific neural processes such as spatial navigation, sensory perception, social behavior, and decision making. Unlike other mammalian models, bats use echolocation (bio-sonar), a 6'th sense that allows us to (acoustically) record them in the field and infer their behavior, a task that is almost impossible with other mammals. The bat mammalian brain shares many similarities with the human brain.
How we do it
We have developed miniature sensors that can be mounted onto bats in the wild. These sensors include GPS, audio, video, acceleration, EEG (brain waves) and other analogue sensors that measure physiology (e.g., heart rate) or environmental cues (e.g., ambient light), enabling us to sense the world from the bat's point of view. In the laboratory, we use ultrasonic microphone arrays synchronized to high speed video tracking for monitoring the precise sensory behavior of the bat as it is performing a wide repertoire of tasks.