Limitations on our interpretations of animal behaviour, and how machines might help.

Alex Jordan, Max Planck Department of Collective Behaviour; University of Konstanz

Alex Jordan will present at the Summer Seminar Series on "Limitations on our interpretations of animal behaviour, and how machines might help. "

The qualitative and potentially subjective nature of many ethological studies can lead to unresolvable debate over the interpretation of animal behaviour, and this problem may be exacerbated when the taxonomic distance between the human observer and the focal species increases. In this talk I will discuss recent work examining the potential for self-recognition in fish using the mirror test, asking how we can interpret ‘unusual’ behaviours in non-human animals. We observe that the cleaner wrasse Labroides dimidiatus, shows behaviour that may be interpreted as passing through all phases of the mark test: (i) social reactions towards the reflection, (ii) repeated idiosyncratic behaviours towards the mirror, and (iii) frequent observation of their reflection. When subsequently provided with a coloured tag in a modified mark test, fish attempt to remove the mark by scraping their body in the presence of a mirror but show no response towards transparent marks or to coloured marks in the absence of a mirror. This study has been met with significant resistance from parts of the behaviour community, who argue that interpretations of fish behaviour cannot be made in the same way as for mammals. I will discuss how our current approaches employing machine vision and artificial neural networks may provide a more objective and quantitative description of animal behaviour across taxa that open greater avenues to debate and discussion based on data rather than intuition.

Datum: 2019-05-13