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Publication Summary and Abstract

Ben Mitchinson, Robyn A. Grant, Kendra Arkley, Vladan Rankov, Igor Perkon and Tony J. Prescott (2011), Active vibrissal sensing in rodents and marsupials, Philosophical Transactions Royal Society B, 366(1581):3037-3048.

In rats, the long facial whiskers (mystacial macrovibrissae) are repetitively and rapidly swept back and forth during exploration in a behaviour known as ‘whisking’. In this paper, we summarize previous evidence from rats, and present new data for rat, mouse and the marsupial grey short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica) showing that whisking in all three species is actively controlled both with respect to movement of the animal's body and relative to environmental structure. Using automatic whisker tracking, and Fourier analysis, we first show that the whisking motion of the mystacial vibrissae, in the horizontal plane, can be approximated as a blend of two sinusoids at the fundamental frequency (mean 8.5, 11.3 and 7.3 Hz in rat, mouse and opossum, respectively) and its second harmonic. The oscillation at the second harmonic is particularly strong in mouse (around 22 Hz) consistent with previous reports of fast whisking in that species. In all three species, we found evidence of asymmetric whisking during head turning and following unilateral object contacts consistent with active control of whisker movement. We propose that the presence of active vibrissal touch in both rodents and marsupials suggests that this behavioural capacity emerged at an early stage in the evolution of therian mammals.
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