Modeling multi-sensory feedback control of zebrafish in a flow

Daniel A. Burbano-L, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding how animals navigate complex environments is a fundamental challenge in biology and a source of inspiration for the design of autonomous systems in engineering. Animal orientation and navigation is a complex process that integrates multiple senses, whose function and contribution are yet to be fully clarified. Here, we propose a data-driven mathematical model of adult zebrafish engaging in counter-flow swimming, an innate behavior known as rheotaxis. Zebrafish locomotion in a two-dimensional fluid flow is described within the finite-dipole model, which consists of a pair of vortices separated by a constant distance. The strength of these vortices is adjusted in real time by the fish to afford orientation and navigation control, in response to of the multi-sensory input from vision, lateral line, and touch. Model parameters for the resulting stochastic differential equations are calibrated through a series of experiments, in which zebrafish swam in a water channel under different illumination conditions. The accuracy of the model is validated through the study of a series of measures of rheotactic behavior, contrasting results of real and in-silico experiments. Our results point at a critical role of hydromechanical feedback during rheotaxis, in the form of a gradient-following strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1008644
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 22 2021


  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Feedback, Sensory/physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Orientation, Spatial/physiology
  • Spatial Navigation/physiology
  • Swimming/physiology
  • Zebrafish/physiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Molecular Biology
  • Ecology
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics
  • Modeling and Simulation


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