How do precise motor programs generalize for robust behaviors?

Locomotor systems need the ability to maintain performance during a wide range of mechanical demands. Large fluctuations in body mass due to growth, injury, or feeding prove to be an important example of such demands. Foraging Manduca sexta can increase their body mass by approximately 50% in a short period of hovering feeding while still maintaining flower tracking performance. Our initial data suggests that they account for this change in mass with a 70% increase in sensorimotor gain (the relationship between sensory input and motor output). We now seek to investigate how this inherently simple “gain knob” works and manifests in the comprehensive motor program for flight.

By leveraging our previous experimental setups for both free-flight feeding experiments and comprehensive motor program recordings during tethered flight, we can explore the difference in the motor program of the same moth before, after, and during this rapid change in its body mass. This approach will allow us to determine if the patterns of muscle coordination remain invariant or if the moths adapt their control strategy by altering the precise timing of their muscles.