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Innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns: basic ethological concepts as drivers for neuroethological studies on acoustic communication in Orthoptera

Ronacher, Bernhard
Journal of comparative physiology 2019 v.205 no.1 pp. 33-50
Tettigoniidae, bioacoustics, communications technology, detectors, evolution, grasshoppers, stridulation
This review addresses the history of neuroethological studies on acoustic communication in insects. One objective is to reveal how basic ethological concepts developed in the 1930s, such as innate releasing mechanisms and fixed action patterns, have influenced the experimental and theoretical approaches to studying acoustic communication systems in Orthopteran insects. The idea of innateness of behaviors has directly fostered the search for central pattern generators that govern the stridulation patterns of crickets, katydids or grasshoppers. A central question pervading 50 years of research is how the essential match between signal features and receiver characteristics has evolved and is maintained during evolution. As in other disciplines, the tight interplay between technological developments and experimental and theoretical advances becomes evident throughout this review. While early neuroethological studies focused primarily on proximate questions such as the implementation of feature detectors or central pattern generators, later the interest shifted more towards ultimate questions. Orthoptera offer the advantage that both proximate and ultimate questions can be tackled in the same system. An important advance was the transition from laboratory studies under well-defined acoustic conditions to field studies that allowed to measure costs and benefits of acoustic signaling as well as constraints on song evolution.