Wing structure and neural encoding jointly determine sensing strategies in insect flight [article]

Alison I Weber, Thomas L Daniel, Bingni W Brunton
2021 bioRxiv   pre-print
Animals rely on sensory feedback to generate accurate, reliable movements. In many flying insects, strain-sensitive neurons on the wings provide rapid feedback that enables stable flight control. While the impacts of wing structure on aerodynamic performance have been widely studied, the impacts of wing structure on sensing remain unexplored. In this paper, we show how the structural properties of the wing and encoding by mechanosensory neurons interact to jointly determine optimal sensing
more » ... egies and performance. Specifically, we examine how neural sensors can be placed effectively over a flapping wing to detect body rotation about different axes, using a computational wing model with varying flexural stiffness inspired by the hawkmoth Manduca sexta. A small set of mechanosensors, conveying strain information at key locations with a single action potential per wingbeat, permit accurate detection of body rotation. Optimal sensor locations are concentrated at either the wing base or the wing tip, and they transition sharply as a function of both wing stiffness and neural threshold. Moreover, the sensing strategy and performance is robust to both external disturbances and sensor loss. Typically, only five sensors are needed to achieve near-peak accuracy, with a single sensor often providing accuracy well above chance. Our results show that small-amplitude, dynamic signals can be extracted efficiently with spatially and temporally sparse sensors in the context of flight. The demonstrated interaction of wing structure and neural encoding properties points to the importance of their joint evolution.
doi:10.1101/2021.02.09.430476 fatcat:zefptyy4r5h2rfg3kksm6wbkry