Electric organ discharge diversity in the genus Gymnotus: functional groups and electrogenic mechanisms.
Previous studies describe six factors accounting for interspecific diversity of electric organ discharge (EOD) waveforms in Gymnotus. At the cellular level, three factors determine the locally generated waveforms: (1) electrocyte geometry and channel repertoire; (2) the localization of synaptic contacts on electrocytes surfaces; (3) electric activity of electromotor axons preceding the discharge of electrocytes. At the organismic level, three factors determine the integration of the EOD as a behavioral unit: (4) the distribution of different types of electrocytes and specialized passive tissue forming the electric organ (EO); (5) the neural mechanisms of electrocyte discharge coordination, (6) post-effector mechanisms. Here, we reconfirm the importance of the first five of these factors based on comparative studies of a wider diversity of Gymnotus than previously investigated. Additionally, we report another aspect of Gymnotus. The central region of the EO (which has the largest weight on the conspecific-received field) usually exhibits a negative-positive-negative pattern where the delay between the early negative and positive peaks (determined by neural coordination mechanisms) matches the delay between the positive and late negative peaks (determined by electrocyte responsiveness). Because delays between peaks typically determine the peak power frequency, this matching implies a co-evolution of neural and myogenic coordination mechanisms in determining the spectral specificity of the intraspecific communication channel. Finally, we define four functional species-groups based on EO/EOD structure. The first three exhibit a heterogeneous EO in which double-innervated electrocytes are responsible for a main triphasic complex. Group I species exhibit a characteristic cephalic extension of the EO. Group II species exhibit an early positive component of putative neural origin, and strong EO auto-excitability. Group III species exhibit an early, slow, negative wave of abdominal origin, and variation in EO auto-excitability. Representatives of Group IV generate a unique waveform comprising a main positive peak followed by a small, load-dependent negative component.