CM – Robots use fear to fight invasive fish


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December 16, 2021

from Cell Press

The invasive mosquito fish (Gambusia holbrooki) chews off the tails of freshwater fish and tadpoles and lets the native animals die while eating on the eggs of other fish and amphibians. In a study published December 16 in the journal iScience, researchers developed a robot to scare away mosquito fish, showing how fear alters their behavior, physiology, and fertility – and can help keep the leaf against invasive ones Ways to turn.

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In order to combat the invasive fish, the international team, consisting of biologists and engineers from Australia, the USA and Italy, was inspired by its natural enemy – the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). They made a robotic fish that mimics the appearance and simulates the movements of the real predator. With the help of computer vision, the robot strikes when it detects the mosquito fish approaching the tadpoles of an Australian species (Litoria moorei) that is threatened by mosquito fish in the wild. Scared and stressed, the mosquito fish exhibited anxious behaviors and experienced weight loss, body shape changes, and decreased fertility, all of which affected their survival and reproduction. « Mosquitofish are one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world, and current practices to eradicate them are too expensive and time-consuming to effectively counteract their spread, « says first author Giovanni Polverino from the University of Western Australia. “This global pest is a serious threat to many aquatic animals. Instead of killing them one by one, we present an approach that enables better strategies to combat this global pest. We made their worst nightmare come true: a robot that scares them. « The mosquito fish, but not the other animals around them. »

In the presence of the robot fish, mosquito fish tended to stay closer together and spend more time in the center The test arena because they were reluctant to break new ground. They also swam more frenetically with frequent and sharp turns than those who did not know the robot. Away from the robot and back to their home aquarium, the effect of fear persisted. The frightened fish were less active, ate more, and froze longer, showing signs of fear that lingered weeks after their last encounter with the robot.

For the tadpoles that mosquito fish usually hunt, the robot’s presence was a change for the better While the mosquito fish is a visual animal that surveys its surroundings primarily with its eyes, tadpoles have poor eyesight: they see d en robot not good. “We expected the robot to have neutral effects on the tadpoles, but it wasn’t,” says Polverino. Because the robot changed the behavior of the mosquito fish, the tadpoles no longer had predators on their tails and they were more willing to venture into the test arena. “For tadpoles, it turned out to be positive. Once freed from the danger of mosquito fish, they were no longer afraid. They are happy. ”

After five weeks of brief encounters between the mosquito fish and the robot, the team found that the fish was using more energy to flee than to reproduce. The bodies of the male fish became thin and streamlined with stronger muscles near the tail that were built to sever the water for escape. Male fish also had lower sperm counts, while female fish produced lighter eggs, which are changes that are likely to jeopardize the survival of the species as a whole.

« The lab-bred robotic fish is successful at repelling mosquito fish, but not yet ready to be released into the wild, « says senior writer Maurizio Porfiri of New York University. The team will still have to master technical challenges. In a first step, they want to test the method in small, clear pools in Australia, where two endangered fish are threatened by mosquito fish.

« Invasive species are a huge problem worldwide and the second cause of loss of biodiversity » says Polverino. Hopefully, our approach of using robots to uncover the weaknesses of an incredibly successful pest will open the door to improving our bio-control practices and fighting invasive species. We are very happy about it. »

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