Image motion environments: background noise for movement-based animal signals

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2008 May;194(5):441-56. doi: 10.1007/s00359-008-0317-3. Epub 2008 Feb 9.


Understanding the evolution of animal signals has to include consideration of the structure of signal and noise, and the sensory mechanisms that detect the signals. Considerable progress has been made in understanding sounds and colour signals, however, the degree to which movement-based signals are constrained by the particular patterns of environmental image motion is poorly understood. Here we have quantified the image motion generated by wind-blown plants at 12 sites in the coastal habitat of the Australian lizard Amphibolurus muricatus. Sampling across different plant communities and meteorological conditions revealed distinct image motion environments. At all locations, image motion became more directional and apparent speed increased as wind speeds increased. The magnitude of these changes and the spatial distribution of image motion, however, varied between locations probably as a function of plant structure and the topographic location. In addition, we show that the background motion noise depends strongly on the particular depth-structure of the environment and argue that such micro-habitat differences suggest specific strategies to preserve signal efficacy. Movement-based signals and motion processing mechanisms, therefore, may reveal the same type of habitat specific structural variation that we see for signals from other modalities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Communication*
  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environment
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Lizards*
  • Motion Perception
  • Motion*
  • Plants
  • Space Perception
  • Wind*