Lehrstuhl für Tierphysiologie
Prof. Dr. Stefan Schuster

S. Schuster, R. Strauss & K. G. Götz | Curr. Biol. 12: 1591-1594 (2002)

Insects can estimate distance or time-to-contact of surrounding objects from locomotion-induced changes in their retinal position and/or size. Freely walking fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) use the received mixture of different distance cues to select the nearest objects for subsequent visits. Conventional methods of behavioral analysis fail to elucidate the underlying data extraction. Here we demonstrate first comprehensive solutions of this problem by substituting virtual for real objects; a tracker-controlled 360 deg panorama converts a fruit fly’s changing coordinates into object illusions that require the perception of specific cues to appear at preselected distances up to infinity. An application reveals the following: (1) en- route sampling of retinal-image changes accounts for distance discrimination within a surprising range of at least 8–80 body lengths (20–200 mm). Stereopsis and peering are not involved. (2) Distance from image translation in the expected direction (motion parallax) outweighs distance from image expansion, which accounts for impact-avoiding flight reactions to looming objects. (3) The ability to discriminate distances is robust to artificially delayed updating of image translation. Fruit flies appear to interrelate self-motion and its visual feedback within a surprisingly long time window of about 2 s.

schuster & otto

S. Schuster & N. Otto | J. Exp. Biol. 205: 3307-3320 (2002)

Here, we explore a method to directly assess the relevance of the various currents for electrolocation. In this new method, the pattern of current flow during a gymnotid EOD is changed selectively at distinct phases of the EOD so that currents generated by known electrocyte groups are affected.

pred start 2002

S. Rossel, J. Corlija & S. Schuster | J. Exp. Biol. 205: 3321-3326 (2002)

We report that the archer fish can predict the point where the dislodged prey will later hit the water surface and move in a straight line towards that point, thus enabling it to arrive as fast as possible. Only about 100 ms after prey is dislodged, the fish initiate a quick turn that aligns their body axis right towards where the prey will later land, and not to the actual position of the prey at that moment.


S. Schuster | J. Exp. Biol. 205: 2525-2533 (2002)

Gymnotiform weakly electric fish find their way in the dark using a continuously operating active sensory system. An electric organ generates a continuous train of discharges (electric organ discharges, EODs), and tuberous high-frequency electroreceptors monitor the pattern of transcutaneous current flow associated with each EOD. Here, I report that a prior interruption to the continuous train of EODs dramatically affects a response shown by many pulse-type gymnotids. (...) These findings show that continuous activity is required either to maintain sensitivity to high-frequency electrical stimuli or to ensure that such stimuli are able to modulate efficiently the pacemaker that sets the discharge frequency.


S. Schuster & S. Amtsfeld | J. Exp. Biol. 205: 549-557 (2002)

Several insects use template-matching systems to recognize objects or environmental landmarks by comparing actual and stored retinal images. Such systems are not viewpoint-invariant and are useful only when the locations in which the images have been stored and where they are later retrieved coincide. Here, we describe that a vertebrate, the weakly electric fish Gnathonemus petersii, appears to use template-matching to recognize visual patterns that it had previously viewed from a fixed vantage point. This fish is nocturnal and uses its electrical sense to find its way in the dark, yet it has functional vision that appears to be well adapted to dim light conditions. We were able to train three fish in a two- alternative forced-choice procedure to discriminate a rewarded from an unrewarded visual pattern. From its daytime shelter, each fish viewed two visual patterns placed at a set distance behind a transparent Plexiglas screen that closed the shelter. When the screen was lifted, the fish swam towards one of the patterns to receive a food reward or to be directed back into its shelter. Successful pattern discrimination was limited to low ambient light intensities of approximately 10lx and to pattern sizes subtending a visual angle greater than 3°. To analyze the characteristics used by the fish to discriminate the visual training patterns, we performed transfer tests in which the training patterns were replaced by other patterns. The results of all such transfer tests can best be explained by a template-matching mechanism in which the fish stores the view of the rewarded training pattern and chooses from two other patterns the one whose retinal appearance best matches the stored view.

echo response

S. Schuster | J. Exp. Biol. 204: 1401-1412 (2001)

Weakly electric fish of the pulse type electrolocate objects in the dark by emitting discrete electric organ discharges (EODs) separated by intervals of silence. Two neighbouring pulse-type fish often reduce the risk of discharging simultaneously by means of an ‘echo response’: one fish will respond to a neighbour’s EOD with a discharge of its own following at a fixed short latency so that its EOD will occur long before the next EOD of its neighbour. Although working elegantly for two partners, this simple strategy should fail in larger groups because two fish could discharge in response to the same EOD of a third fish. Here, I show that the mormyrid fish Gnathonemus petersii could use a simple mechanism to reduce this problem.

gymnotus 2000

S. Schuster | J. Exp. Biol. 203: 1433-1446 (2000)

During their entire lives, weakly electric fish produce an uninterrupted train of discharges to electrolocate objects and to communicate. In an attempt to learn about activity- dependent processes that might be involved in this ability, the continuous train of discharges of intact Gymnotus carapo was experimentally interrupted to investigate how this pausing affects post-pause electric organ discharges. In particular, an analysis was conducted of how the amplitude and relative timing of the three major deflections of the complex discharge change over the course of the first 1000 post-pause discharges...

virtual open loop

R. Strauss, S. Schuster & K. G. Götz | J. Exp. Biol. 200: 1281-1296 (1997)

A computerized 360 ° panorama allowed us to suppress most of the locomotion-induced visual feedback of a freely walking fly without neutralizing its mechanosensory system (‘virtual open-loop’ conditions). This novel paradigm achieves control over the fly’s visual input by continuously evaluating its actual position and orientation.


S. Schuster, R. Gross, B. Mayer & R. P. Hübener | Phys. Rev. B 48: 16172-16175 (1993)

Thermal noise is known to cause a finite resistance Rp of over damped Josephson junctions even in the zero-current limit. By extending the treatment of Ambegaokar and Halperin the magnetic-field dependence of this resistance is analyzed for arbitrary current-phase relations. We show that the measurement of the magnetic-field dependence of Rp allows the determination of the magnetic-field dependence of the critical current in the temperature regime where thermal-noise rounding effects prevent the application of the usual methods. Applying this technique the correlation function of the super current distribution of YBa2Cu3O7-d grain-boundary junctions could be determined with a spatial resolution of 130 nm.


S. Schuster | J. Exp. Biol. 144: 185-198 (1989)

The swimbladder volume and air volume within the breathing chambers of the anabantoid fish Colisa lalia have been measured. These data help in the understanding of some of the functions of these organs and are necessary for an analysis of their role in hearing and sound production. By means of a simple trick (based on new data) it was possible to analyse the time course of air volume changes in the breathing chambers at different temperatures. The results are well described by a simple diffusion model. The temperature-dependence of the time course suggests an interesting increase of the diffusion constant with temperature.

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