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Neuromodulation may be a substrate for the evolution of behavioral diversity. The extent to which a central pattern generator is modulated could serve as a mechanism that enables variability in motor output dependent on an organism’s need for behavioral flexibility. The pyloric circuit, a central pattern generator in the crustacean stomatogastric nervous system (STNS), stimulates contractions of foregut muscles in digestion. Since neuromodulation enables variation in the movements of pyloric muscles, more diverse feeding patterns should be correlated with a higher degree of STNS neuromodulation. Previous data have shown that Cancer borealis, an opportunistic feeder, is sensitive to a wider array of neuromodulators than Pugettia producta, a specialist feeder. The observed difference in modulatory capacity may be coincidental since these species are separated by phylogeny. We predict that the difference in modulatory capacity is a product of a differential need for variety in foregut muscle movements. This study examined two members of the same superfamily as P. producta, the opportunistically feeding snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) and portly spider crab (Libinia emarginata). Using extracellular recording methods, the responses of isolated STNS preparations to various neuromodulators were measured. Initial qualitative results indicate that the STNS of C. opilio is sensitive to all of these neuromodulators. Additionally, previous data on the neuromodulatory capacity of L. emarginata was supported through similar electrophysiological analysis of the isolated STNS. As a first step in determining the mechanism of differential sensitivity between species, tissue-specific transcriptomes were generated and mined for neuromodulators.
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