Nav: Home

How understanding animal behavior can support wildlife conservation

April 03, 2019

Advancement in sensor technologies has meant that field biologists are now collecting a growing mass of ever more precise data on animal behaviour. Yet there is currently no standardized method for determining exactly how to interpret these signals. Take meerkats, for instance. A signal that the animal is active could mean that it is moving; alternatively, it could indicate that it is digging in search of its favorite prey, scorpions. Likewise, an immobile meerkat could be resting - or keeping watch.

In an effort to answer these questions, researchers from EPFL's Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Measurement (LMAM) teamed up with colleagues from the University of Zurich's Population Ecology Research Group to develop a behavior recognition model. The research was conducted in affiliation with the Kalahari Research Centre.

Assessing human impact on wildlife

"Human activity is having ever greater and more frequent impact on animal behavior," says Pritish Chakravarty, a PhD student at the LMAM. "Once we understand how animal behaviour changes in response to external stimuli, we can better shape our conservation efforts." Chakravarty explains, for instance, that authorities can designate known feeding and hunting grounds as protected areas. "But that can only happen if we know with high accuracy which signals mean the animal is searching for food, changing location or engaged in a static activity."

A new biomechanical approach

The new model draws on general biomechanical principles such as posture, movement intensity and frequency. It allows researchers to precisely determine what an animal is doing - resting, keeping watch, running, or searching for food - using input from a wearable accelerometer. The device, which is compatible with a variety of species, has been repurposed by the LMAM research team to capture data such as body inclination, acceleration, vibrations and impacts.

First, the model distinguishes between two broad categories of behavior - dynamic (running, searching for food) and static (resting, keeping watch) - by analysing movement and posture intensity. If the animal is still, the researchers can tell whether it is resting or keeping watch by looking at the inclination of its torso. And when the animal is on the move, they can use movement intensity and frequency to determine whether it is running or searching for food.

Field data

The fieldwork was carried out by specially trained long-term volunteers at the Kalahari Research Centre. The team fitted sensor collars to 10 meerkats, then recorded data and filmed the animals going about their business for three hours. After analysing the recordings to identify different types of activity, the researchers developed a hybrid model, using biomechanical principles and the data collected in the field to train a machine-learning algorithm to recognise different patterns of behavior.

The researchers' work marks the first step towards a standardized method for analysing animal behavior from wearable accelerometer signals. The model could be refined to produce more accurate and detailed information about specific behaviors in future studies. "The model could be used, for instance, to provide an estimate of how much energy an animal expends searching for food," says Chakravarty. "That would tell us how much time and effort it takes for a meerkat to find something to eat, and whether a particular spot is of particular interest for the group."

The Kalahari Research Centre was set up in 1993 by the University of Cambridge and is the site of several research projects.

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Related Behavior Articles:

Religious devotion as predictor of behavior
'Religious Devotion and Extrinsic Religiosity Affect In-group Altruism and Out-group Hostility Oppositely in Rural Jamaica,' suggests that a sincere belief in God -- religious devotion -- is unrelated to feelings of prejudice.
Brain stimulation influences honest behavior
Researchers at the University of Zurich have identified the brain mechanism that governs decisions between honesty and self-interest.
Brain pattern flexibility and behavior
The scientists analyzed an extensive data set of brain region connectivity from the NIH-funded Human Connectome Project (HCP) which is mapping neural connections in the brain and makes its data publicly available.
Butterflies: Agonistic display or courtship behavior?
A study shows that contests of butterflies occur only as erroneous courtships between sexually active males that are unable to distinguish the sex of the other butterflies.
Sedentary behavior associated with diabetic retinopathy
In a study published online by JAMA Ophthalmology, Paul D.
Curiosity has the power to change behavior for the better
Curiosity could be an effective tool to entice people into making smarter and sometimes healthier decisions, according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.
Campgrounds alter jay behavior
Anyone who's gone camping has seen birds foraging for picnic crumbs, and according to new research in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, the availability of food in campgrounds significantly alters jays' behavior and may even change how they interact with other bird species.
A new tool for forecasting the behavior of the microbiome
A team of investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the University of Massachusetts have developed a suite of computer algorithms that can accurately predict the behavior of the microbiome -- the vast collection of microbes living on and inside the human body.
Is risk-taking behavior contagious?
Why do we sometimes decide to take risks and other times choose to play it safe?
Neural connectivity dictates altruistic behavior
A new study suggests that the specific alignment of neural networks in the brain dictates whether a person's altruism was motivated by selfish or altruistic behavior.

Related Behavior Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#529 Do You Really Want to Find Out Who's Your Daddy?
At least some of you by now have probably spit into a tube and mailed it off to find out who your closest relatives are, where you might be from, and what terrible diseases might await you. But what exactly did you find out? And what did you give away? In this live panel at Awesome Con we bring in science writer Tina Saey to talk about all her DNA testing, and bioethicist Debra Mathews, to determine whether Tina should have done it at all. Related links: What FamilyTreeDNA sharing genetic data with police means for you Crime solvers embraced...