Suzanne M. Cox and Gary B. Gillis
Controlled landing requires preparation. Mammals and bipedal birds vary how they prepare for landing by predicting the timing and magnitude of impact from the integration of visual and non-visual information. Here, we explore how the cane toad Rhinella marina – an animal that moves primarily through hopping – integrates sensory information to modulate landing preparation. Earlier work suggests that toads may modulate landing preparation using predictions of impact timing and/or magnitude based on non-visual sensory feedback during takeoff rather than visual cues about the landing itself. We disentangled takeoff and landing conditions by hopping toads off platforms of different heights while measuring electromyographic (EMG) activity of an elbow extensor (m. anconeus) and capturing high-speed images to quantify whole body and forelimb kinematics. This enabled us to test how toads integrate visual and non-visual information in landing preparation. We asked two questions: (1) when they conflict, do toads correlate landing preparation with takeoff or landing conditions? And (2) for hops with the same takeoff conditions, does visual information alter the timing of landing preparation? We found that takeoff conditions are a better predictor of the onset of landing preparation than landing conditions, but that visual information is not ignored. When hopping off higher platforms, toads start to prepare for landing later when takeoff conditions are invariant. This suggests that, unlike mammals, toads prioritize non-visual sensory feedback about takeoff conditions to coordinate landing, but that they do integrate visual information to fine-tune landing preparation.