Spatial Navigation

Iven Yu

Spatial navigation is an essential and fundamental ability to humans and animals, and the use of landmarks in navigation has been greatly implicated across species. However, at present, most of the research in this field has employed animals that use vision as their primary sensory input for navigation purposes, which presents a major disadvantage for attributing animals' sensory experience to their navigational behaviors. In our lab, we use echolocating bats as an alternative animal model to study their spatial learning and behaviors with regard to their sensory experience. With the microphone arrays along the walls in the lab, we are able to reconstruct bats' sonar beam aim and pattern to ascertain the information the bat is actively seeking or receiving during navigation. In this experiment, we want to examine whether bats are able to discriminate different landmarks and learn to associate a reliable landmark with a food rewarding location. We train the bats to fly through two holes, with a landmark adjacent to each, in a net wall, which is less echoic, suspended across the flight room (see figure). One of the landmarks indicates a net opening location that leads to the feeding site. We hypothesize that the bats are able to use echolocation to discriminate the features of different landmarks and show a preference for the landmark that leads them to food. This project is also an experiment that precedes a later hippocampal neurophysiology experiment in free flying bats to examine the sensory integration in neural encoding of spatial environment.