Most animals locate resources critical to their survival and reproduction (i.e., food, mates) by tracking evaporated odors that have moved downwind away from these resources in odor plumes. A major unanswered question about this remarkable behavior is how animals maintain contact with odor plumes. Do they: 1) make simultaneous side-to-side comparisons of odor levels between odor sensors, or 2) compare a series of odor concentrations detected at different points along their paths? This answer is not known because the multiple variables that affect an animal?s behavioral response to odor have rarely been studied in a systematic way. These variables include a dynamically changing environment, how fast they are walking, flying or swimming, and odor sensors on different parts of their bodies. Our project will use a novel integrative approach to address this long standing question and transform and expand our understanding of odor-guided behavior. The behavioral responses of flying and walking animals will be compared as the three variables listed above are manipulated. The variables most important to successful source location will be identified along with how they interact with each other. The knowledge gained about biological control rules and their interaction with the behavior and sensory structures of a specific organism will reveal how animals prioritize information to adapt their behavior to unpredictable conditions. The broader impacts of this study will include: 1) research training for students from our university and from a local all-girls high school, 2) training for a Cleveland Metropolitan High School teacher who will work in our lab during summers with the goal of using insect behavior as a tool to bring experience-based learning to the classroom, and 3) knowledge of biological control rules for odor tracking to apply to such projects as odor-tracking behaviors in mobile robots.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Michelle M. Elekonich
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Case Western Reserve University
United States
Zip Code