A Sensory-Motor Control Model of Animal Flight Explains Why Bats Fly Differently in Light Versus Dark
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Animal flight requires fine motor control. However, it is unknown how flying animals rapidly transform noisy sensory information into adequate motor commands. Here we developed a sensorimotor control model that explains vertebrate flight guidance with high fidelity. This simple model accurately reconstructed complex trajectories of bats flying in the dark. The model implies that in order to apply appropriate motor commands, bats have to estimate not only the angle-to-target, as was previously assumed, but also the angular velocity (“proportional-derivative” controller). Next, we conducted experiments in which bats flew in light conditions. When using vision, bats altered their movements, reducing the flight curvature. This change was explained by the model via reduction in sensory noise under vision versus pure echolocation. These results imply a surprising link between sensory noise and movement dynamics. We propose that this sensory-motor link is fundamental to motion control in rapidly moving animals under different sensory conditions, on land, sea, or air.