Variability and thermal modulation of locomotor statistics in zebrafish

G. Le Goc , S. Karpenko , V. Bormuth , R. Candelier , G. Debrégeas

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Biorxiv
Published 19 Mar. 2021
DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.17.435787

Abstract

Variability is a hallmark of animal behavior. It endows individuals and populations with the capacity to adapt to ever-changing conditions. How variability is internally regulated and modulated by external cues remains elusive. Here we address this question by focusing on the exploratory behavior of zebrafish larvae as they freely swim at different, yet ethologically relevant, water temperatures. We show that, for this simple animal model, five short-term kinematic parameters together control the long-term exploratory dynamics. We establish that the bath temperature consistently impacts the means and variances of these parameters, but leave their pairwise covariance unchanged. These results indicate that the temperature merely controls the sampling statistics within a well-defined accessible locomotor repertoire. At a given temperature, the exploration of the behavioral space is found to take place over tens of minutes, suggestive of a slow internal state modulation that could be externally biased through the bath temperature. By combining these various observations into a minimal stochastic model of navigation, we show that this thermal modulation of locomotor kinematics results in a thermophobic behavior, complementing direct gradient-sensing mechanisms.

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