Thursday, 1 August 2019

Simulation explores how insects glean compass direction from skylight


JULY 18, 2019

A computational simulation suggests that insects may be capable of using the properties of light from the sky to determine their compass direction with an error of less than two degrees. Evripidis Gkanias of the University of Edinburgh, U.K., and colleagues present their findings in PLOS Computational Biology.
Several insects, including honeybees, locusts, and monarch butterflies, use the position of the sun to guide their travel. Even when the sun is not visible, these insects can sense the polarization of light in the sky and use it to estimate the sun's position. However, the precise neural processes by which insects transform properties of light from the sky into an accurate compass sense are unclear.
To explore this question, Gkanias and colleagues built a computational simulation that incorporates a hypothetical system of neurons that an insect's brain could potentially use to reconstruct the sun's position from skylight properties detected by the eye. The simulation also incorporates known physical properties of light from the sky, the layout of the insect eye, and other biological parameters determined from previous research on the insect brain.


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