Collective Behaviour - Summer Seminar Series 2021

How clonal fish & biomimetic robots help us answer fundamental questions in behavioral research

David Bierbach, Humboldt University of Berlin

David Bierbach is a faculty member at Humboldt University of Berlin, where he focuses on integrating field-based studies with analytical and experimental approaches in the laboratory. To study animal behaviour, he uses several experimental techniques such as video playbacks, computer animations, and biomimetic robots. His overall aim is to implement this knowledge to build better bio-mimetic robots and social interaction algorithms. 

How clonal fish & biomimetic robots help us answer fundamental questions in behavioral research

Phenotypic variation among individuals is thought to be caused by differences in genes and/or environmental conditions. Therefore, if these sources of variation are removed, individuals are predicted to develop similar phenotypes lacking individual variation. In sharp contrast to these predictions, we find substantial individual variation in behavior among genetically identical individuals of the clonal fish, Poecilia formosa, that were isolated directly after birth into highly standardized environments. This variation does not develop over the ontogeny but is present at day 1 of the fish’s life. In contrast to the current research paradigm, which focuses on genes and/or environmental drivers, our findings suggest that individuality might be an inevitable and potentially unpredictable outcome of the very early embryonic development. In order to study both causes and consequences of these individual differences, we developed a biomimetic robot - the so-called Robofish - that is able to integrate itself interactively into groups of fish. This tool allows us to decouple behavior from morphology and test hypothesis arising from theoretical considerations on social and collective interactions. I will outline how Robofish helped us to find a link between differences in swimming speed and collective patterns in shoaling fish and how leader - follower interactions depend strongly on the anticipated reaction of the social partner.

Datum: 2021-06-07