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A novel device to monitor small changes in underwater distances

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This study describes a technique to record small (1 cm) distance changes or movements occurring in seawater using a simple electronic circuit and miniature ball electrodes. This low-cost technique was designed to directly measure such changes in a broad range of experiments involving small marine invertebrates while minimizing the mechanical loading of the structures of interest. The circuit detects and amplifies small changes in the resistance of seawater between two electrodes as the distance between them varies; these are then converted to voltage changes. After calibrating the output of the device with known distance measurements, it was evaluated using a test organism by monitoring and recording the body flushing behavior of the sea squirt, Styela plicata. Electrodes were sewn to the tunic at the base of the atrial siphon and changes in its diameter were recorded >24-h periods. Using ∼3-cm-tall sea squirts, the distance between the electrodes expanded and contracted with a range of 5.5 mm during rhythmic flushings. Flushes occurred on average every 4.1 min and showed a rapid initial contraction, followed by a slower expansion while refilling. Attaching electrodes to the tunic had little mechanical or behavioral effect; the untouched control specimen had similar flushing rates. The movement monitor circuit is stable, sensitive, and performed well in full-strength seawater experiments where good spatial and high temporal resolution, low inertial loading, and low noise were required. The technique, as shown here, can be used to record a wide range of animal movements and further suggested modifications of the circuit may suit a broad range of other experimental situations.

Keywords: behavior; electronic distance; measurement; movement

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3280, USA 2: Department of Biomedical Research, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-7575, USA

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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