Elements of a stochastic 3D prediction engine in larval zebrafish prey capture.

Published Date: 
November 26, 2019

Bolton AD, Haesemeyer M, Jordi J, Schaechtle U, Saad FA, Mansinghka VK, Tenenbaum JB, Engert F.

The computational principles underlying predictive capabilities in animals are poorly understood. Here, we wondered whether predictive models mediating prey capture could be reduced to a simple set of sensorimotor rules performed by a primitive organism. For this task, we chose the larval zebrafish, a tractable vertebrate that pursues and captures swimming microbes. Using a novel naturalistic 3D setup, we show that the zebrafish combines position and velocity perception to construct a future positional estimate of its prey, indicating an ability to project trajectories forward in time. Importantly, the stochasticity in the fish's sensorimotor transformations provides a considerable advantage over equivalent noise-free strategies. This surprising result coalesces with recent findings that illustrate the benefits of biological stochasticity to adaptive behavior. In sum, our study reveals that zebrafish are equipped with a recursive prey capture algorithm, built up from simple stochastic rules, that embodies an implicit predictive model of the world.