Measuring flow velocity and flow direction by spatial and temporal analysis of flow fluctuations

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Chagnaud, B. P. ; Brücker, C. ; Hofmann, M. H. ; Bleckmann, H. (2008)

If exposed to bulk water flow, fish lateral line afferents respond only to flow fluctuations (AC) and not to the steady (DC) component of the flow. Consequently, a single lateral line afferent can encode neither bulk flow direction nor velocity. It is possible, however, for a fish to obtain bulk flow information using multiple afferents that respond only to flow fluctuations. We show by means of particle image velocimetry that, if a flow contains fluctuations, these fluctuations propagate with the flow. A cross-correlation of water motion measured at an upstream point with that at a downstream point can then provide information about flow velocity and flow direction. In this study, we recorded from pairs of primary lateral line afferents while a fish was exposed to either bulk water flow, or to the water motion caused by a moving object. We confirm that lateral line afferents responded to the flow fluctuations and not to the DC component of the flow, and that responses of many fiber pairs were highly correlated, if they were time-shifted to correct for gross flow velocity and gross flow direction. To prove that a cross-correlation mechanism can be used to retrieve the information about gross flow velocity and direction, we measured the flow-induced bending motions of two flexible micropillars separated in a downstream direction. A cross-correlation of the bending motions of these micropillars did indeed produce an accurate estimate of the velocity vector along the direction of the micropillars.
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