Barn Studio Unveils Secrets of Bird Flocks and Insect Swarms

barn studio unveils secrets of bird flocks and insect swarms.jpg Science

In a revolutionary leap in animal behavior studies, a converted barn has been transformed into a state-of-the-art lab, aptly named the SMART-BARN, that utilizes motion-capture cameras to monitor and analyze the movements and behaviors of whole flocks of birds or swarms of insects. Resembling a Hollywood motion-capture studio, the facility, a quarter the size of a standard basketball court, is equipped with 30 infrared cameras capable of tracking up to 500 individual markers attached to the animals’ bodies, creating a high-precision and controllable environment that still allows animals enough space to interact as they would in nature.

The innovative SMART-BARN, spearheaded by Máté Nagy at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, has also demonstrated its capability to track animals without the use of markers, employing six video cameras and computer vision software based on artificial intelligence. Accompanied by 30 microphones to record animal sounds and locate animals based on their noises, the lab has already made significant strides in experiments with homing pigeons, starlings, and African death’s head hawkmoths, providing valuable insights into collective attention, synchronized behaviors, and predator-prey interactions.

SMART-BARN: A Revolutionary Lab for Studying Animal Behavior

A converted barn, now an innovative animal behaviour lab, has been equipped with motion-capture cameras allowing for the monitoring of entire flocks of birds or swarms of insects. Known as the SMART-BARN, this research facility resembles a Hollywood motion-capture studio, complete with 30 infrared cameras capable of tracking up to 500 individual markers on animals’ bodies.

Building a Controllable Environment

The SMART-BARN provides a high-precision yet controllable environment within a space one quarter the size of a standard basketball court. It encompasses feeding stations and animal perches, replicating the natural environment for the animals. Máté Nagy, a researcher at Eeötvös Loránd University in Hungary, stated, "We have a very high precision and controllable environment, but with large enough volume for the animals to move and interact much as they do in nature."

Advanced Tracking Capabilities

The researchers have demonstrated the capability of their lab to track animals without any markers, using six video cameras and computer vision software based on artificial intelligence. Additionally, the facility houses 30 microphones to record animal sounds, and even pinpoint animal locations based on sound. Various experiments have been conducted with homing pigeons, starlings, and African death’s head hawkmoths tracking real-time locations and body poses of each individual animal.

Insightful Observations and Challenges

The SMART-BARN lab has provided valuable insights into animal behaviors, such as how a pigeon flock’s collective attention switched from food to a possible predator threat, and how wild-caught starlings increasingly synchronized their mealtimes when foraging for live worms. However, the research has not been without challenges. Nora Carlson at the Max-Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany mentioned that the starlings proved “very creative” in ruining the markers that they wore.

Future Prospects and Limitations

Notwithstanding its significant contributions, the indoor space of the SMART-BARN lab is too small to study animal behaviours involving long-distance migration or large-scale movements, noted Iain Couzin at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior. However, the researchers are already planning to build a larger facility that can track the behavior of 10,000 swarming locusts without any markers.

The facility’s 3D motion-tracking capability could enable close study of animal behavior in the very centre of flocks or swarms, offering unprecedented insights into group formation and cohesion, according to Mark Hauber at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

In conclusion, while the SMART-BARN lab has its limitations, its innovative approach has provided a new tool for studying animal behavior. Its unique capabilities offer a promising future for more in-depth and extensive animal behavior studies.

My Takeaways:The advancements in animal behavior research demonstrated by the SMART-BARN lab are quite impressive. By combining technology and biology, the researchers have been able to gain insights into the intricacies of animal behavior in a controlled environment. However, the limitations highlight the need for further advancements in the field. The planned larger facility sounds promising and could potentially provide even more comprehensive insights into animal behaviors.

Crive - News that matters