Diverse animal species, from insects to humans, utilize acoustic signals for communication. Studies of the neural basis for song or speech production have focused almost exclusively on the generation of spectral and temporal patterns, but animals can also adjust acoustic signal intensity when communicating. For example, humans naturally regulate the loudness of speech in accord with a visual estimate of receiver distance. The underlying mechanisms for this ability remain uncharacterized in any system. Here, we show that Drosophila males modulate courtship song amplitude with female distance, and we investigate each stage of the sensorimotor transformation underlying this behavior, from the detection of particular visual stimulus features and the timescales of sensory processing to the modulation of neural and muscle activity that generates song. Our results demonstrate an unanticipated level of control in insect acoustic communication and uncover novel computations and mechanisms underlying the regulation of acoustic signal intensity.
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