Sensory ecology and physiology of free-ranging animals is challenging to study but underpins our understanding of decision-making in the wild. Existing non-invasive human biomedical technology offers tools that could be harnessed to address these challenges. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a wearable, non-invasive biomedical imaging technique measures oxy- and deoxyhaemoglobin concentration changes that can be used to detect localized neural activation in the brain. We tested the efficacy of fNIRS to detect cortical activation in grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) and identify regions of the cortex associated with different senses (vision, hearing and touch). The activation of specific cerebral areas in seals was detected by fNIRS in responses to light (vision), sound (hearing) and whisker stimulation (touch). Physiological parameters, including heart and breathing rate, were also extracted from the fNIRS signal, which allowed neural and physiological responses to be monitored simultaneously. This is the first time fNIRS has been used to detect cortical activation in a non-domesticated or laboratory animal. Since fNIRS is non-invasive and wearable, this study demonstrates its potential as a tool to quantitatively investigate sensory perception and brain function while simultaneously recording heart rate, tissue and arterial oxygen saturation of haemoglobin, perfusion changes and breathing rate in free-ranging animals.This article is part of the theme issue ‘Measuring physiology in free living animals (Part I)’.
|Date made available||19 May 2021|