Abstract

The ability to track odor plumes in dynamic environments is critical for flying insects following attractive odors to localize food or mates. This remarkable tracking behavior requires multimodal integration of odor, vision, and wind sensing, is robust to variations in plume statistics and wind speeds, and can often be performed over large distances. Therefore, it is challenging to study in confined experimental settings. Here we describe ongoing work to explore the space of policies effective to accomplish plume tracking, leveraging the reproducibility and interpretability of artificial agents trained in biologically motivated simulations. Specifically, we trained neural-network (NN) agents with deep reinforcement learning to locate the source of a patchy simulated plume, while varying their capacity to store past sensory stimuli. We analyzed the behavior of trained agents by inspecting successful trajectories. We then interrogated the input-output maps learned by the NNs, uncovering interpretable differences in control strategies introduced by varying sensory memory. We believe that our simulation-based approach can generate novel testable hypotheses to guide the development of targeted neuroethological experiments, as well as provide a pathway towards a mechanistic understanding of the key multimodal computations required for plume tracking.

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