Nav: Home

Look out, invasive species: The robots are coming

September 16, 2019

BROOKLYN, New York, Monday, September 16, 2019 - Invasive species control is notoriously challenging, especially in lakes and rivers where native fish and other wildlife have limited options for escape. In his laboratory's latest foray into using biomimetic robots to understand and modify animal behavior, NYU Tandon School of Engineering Professor Maurizio Porfiri led an interdisciplinary team of researchers from NYU Tandon and the University of Western Australia toward demonstrating how robotic fish can be a valuable tool in the fight against one of the world's most problematic invasive species, the mosquitofish.

Found in freshwater lakes and rivers worldwide, soaring mosquitofish populations have decimated native fish and amphibian populations, and attempts to control the species through toxicants or trapping often fail or cause harm to local wildlife.

Porfiri and a team of collaborators have published the first experiments to gauge the ability of a biologically inspired robotic fish to induce fear-related changes in mosquitofish. Their findings indicate that even brief exposure to a robotic replica of the mosquitofish's primary predator -- the largemouth bass -- can provoke meaningful stress responses in mosquitofish, triggering avoidance behaviors and physiological changes associated with the loss of energy reserves, potentially translating into lower rates of reproduction.

The paper, "Behavioural and Life-History Responses of Mosquitofish to Biologically Inspired and Interactive Robotic Predators," appears in the current issue of the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study using robots to evoke fear responses in this invasive species," Porfiri said. "The results show that a robotic fish that closely replicates the swimming patterns and visual appearance of the largemouth bass has a powerful, lasting impact on mosquitofish in the lab setting."

The team exposed groups of mosquitofish to a robotic largemouth bass for one 15-minute session per week for six consecutive weeks. The robot's behavior varied between trials, spanning several degrees of biomimicry. Notably, in some trials, the robot was programmed to incorporate real-time feedback based on interactions with live mosquitofish and to exhibit "attacks" typical of predatory behavior -- a rapid increase in swimming speed. Interactions between the live fish and the replica were tracked in real time and analyzed to reveal correlations between the degree of biomimicry in the robot and the level of stress response exhibited by the live fish. Fear-related behaviors in mosquitofish include freezing (not swimming), hesitancy in exploring open spaces that are unfamiliar and potentially dangerous, and erratic swimming patterns.

The researchers also measured physiologic parameters of stress response, anesthetizing the fish weekly to measure their weight and length. Decreases in weight indicate a stronger anti-predator response and result in lower energy reserves. Fish with lower reserves are less likely to survive long and devote energy toward future reproduction - factors with strong implications for population management in the wild.

Fish exposed to robotic predators that most closely mimicked the aggressive, attack-oriented swimming patterns of real-life predators displayed the highest levels of behavioral and physiological stress responses.

"Further studies are needed to determine if these effects translate to wild populations, but this is a concrete demonstration of the potential of a robotics to solve the mosquitofish problem," said Giovanni Polverino, Forrest Fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Western Australia and the lead author of the paper. "We have a lot more work going on between our schools to establish new, effective tools to combat the spread of invasive species."

Porfiri's Dynamical Systems Laboratory is known for previous work using biomimetic robots alongside live fish to tease out the mechanisms of many collective animal behaviors, including leadership, mating preferences, and even the impact of alcohol on social behaviors. In addition to developing robots that offer fully controllable stimuli for studying animal behavior, the biomimetic robots minimize use of experimental animals.
-end-
The paper's co-authors also include NYU Tandon doctoral student Mert Karakaya; Chiara Spinello, a researcher in Porfiri's lab, and NYU Tandon undergraduate student Vrishin Soman. Porfiri holds faculty appointments in NYU Tandon's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Department of Biomedical Engineering.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Forrest Research Foundation.

About the New York University Tandon School of Engineering

The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, the founding date for both the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture and the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly). A January 2014 merger created a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within NYU, one of the country's foremost private research universities, and is closely connected to engineering programs at NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates Future Labs focused on start-up businesses in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program. For more information, visit http://engineering.nyu.edu.

NYU Tandon School of Engineering

Related Invasive Species Articles:

Research networks can help BRICS countries combat invasive species
BRICS countries need more networks of researchers dedicated to invasion science if they wish to curb the spread of invasive species within and outside of their borders.
Look out, invasive species: The robots are coming
Researchers published the first experiments to gauge whether biomimetic robotic fish can induce fear-related changes in mosquitofish, aiming to discover whether the highly invasive species might be controlled without toxicants or trapping methods harmful to wildlife.
Monster tumbleweed: Invasive new species is here to stay
A new species of gigantic tumbleweed once predicted to go extinct is not only here to stay -- it's likely to expand its territory.
DNA tests of UK waters could help catch invasive species early
A team of scientists led by the University of Southampton have discovered several artificially introduced species in the coastal waters of southern England, using a technique that could help the early detection of non-native species if adopted more widely.
For certain invasive species, catching infestation early pays off
An international research team led by invasion ecologist Bethany Bradley at UMass Amherst has conducted the first global meta-analysis of the characteristics and size of invasive alien species' impacts on native species as invaders become more abundant.
Study offers insight into biological changes among invasive species
A remote island in the Caribbean could offer clues as to how invasive species are able to colonise new territories and then thrive in them, a new study by the University of Plymouth suggests.
The invasive species are likely to spread to a community not adapted to climate change
Laboratory experiment to indicate how invasive species are to spread new areas.
Invasive species and habitat loss our biggest biodiversity threats
Invasive species and habitat loss are the biggest threats to Australian biodiversity, according to new research by the Threatened Species Recovery Hub in partnership with The University of Queensland.
Forget 'needle in a haystack'; try finding an invasive species in a lake
When the tiny and invasive spiny water flea began appearing in UW-Madison researchers' nets in 2009, scientists began to wonder how Lake Mendota, one of the most-studied lakes in the world, went from flea-free to infested seemingly overnight, undetected by trained technicians.
Invasive species in an ecosystem harm native organisms but aid other invasive species
The presence of an invasive species in an ecosystem makes native organisms more susceptible to pollutants and may encourage the spread of additional invasive species, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University at New York.
More Invasive Species News and Invasive Species Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#543 Give a Nerd a Gift
Yup, you guessed it... it's Science for the People's annual holiday episode that helps you figure out what sciency books and gifts to get that special nerd on your list. Or maybe you're looking to build up your reading list for the holiday break and a geeky Christmas sweater to wear to an upcoming party. Returning are pop-science power-readers John Dupuis and Joanne Manaster to dish on the best science books they read this past year. And Rachelle Saunders and Bethany Brookshire squee in delight over some truly delightful science-themed non-book objects for those whose bookshelves are already full. Since...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab