A research team at the University of Western Australia (UWA) has developed a robotic fish that acts as a guard for native species and protects them from the hostile attitudes of invasive pests.
The study was performed at the Centre for Evolutionary Biology at UWA under Dr. Giovanni Polverino’s supervision and with the collaboration of visiting engineering student from New York University (NYU) and researchers at UWA and was supported by the Forrest Research Foundation and the National Science Foundation.
Concentrating on the evolutionary mechanism, Polverino researched on the reasons of ecological success of invasive fish over local ones to predict different species’ response to human-brought changes in the environment. His team has developed a new generation of bio-inspired robots competent in fighting invasive and pest species in fresh Australian waterways while also protecting the local species of fauna.
“Originally introduced by human beings in many environments to control mosquitos, mosquitofish are one of the biggest threats in freshwater ecosystems worldwide now, including Australia,” informed Dr. Polverino.
According to him, the attempts to stop or at least slowdown the invasion of mosquitofish are unsuccessful. Tadpoles of most frog species eventually pay the price due to this forced cohabitation.
Is robotic fish an antidote against mosquitofish?
To combat this, the researchers studied the appearance and swimming patterns of native predators of the invasive mosquitofish from North America and unified these features into a robotic predator fish that has the appearance and movement like a real mosquitofish predator.
The computer vision system installed in the robot allows it to differentiate in real-time between the native tadpoles and invasive mosquitofish based on their movement, outline, and behavior so that the robot could act differently towards the 2 different species. “It protects the tadpoles as an automatic robotic bodyguard by performing real-time attacks towards the invasive mosquitofish when they present a danger to the tadpoles.
“We wanted to demonstrate that advanced technology using an engineered robotic fish can help protect our biodiversity and fight the spread of invasive species.” Dr. Polverino says that the study built on a long-term research collaboration with Professor Maurizio Porfiri and his research group from NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering.
“This research study builds on a series of previous studies in which my collaborators and I have found that bio-inspired robotic fish can simultaneously repel the invasive fish and attract the native species, with stressed mosquitofish that lose most of their energy reserves and likely compromise their fertility and survival in the long term.”