A new study at the University of Western Australia has developed a robotic fish that acts as a guard for native species and protects them from the hostile attitudes of invasive pests. The team of researchers led by researcher Dr. Giovanni Polverino, from UWA’s Centre for Evolutionary Biology, was awarded one of the inaugural Forrest Postdoctoral Research Fellowships in 2017.
The study was performed at the Centre for Evolutionary Biology at UWA under Dr. Polverino’s supervision and with the collaboration of researchers at UWA and a visiting engineering student from NYU supported by the National Science Foundation and the Forrest Research Foundation. Concentrating on the evolutionary mechanism, Polverino researched the reasons for the ecological success of invasive fish over local ones to predict different species’ responses 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 Australian fresh waterways while also protecting the local fauna.
“Originally introduced by humans in many environments to control mosquito larvae, mosquitofish are now one of the biggest threats in freshwater ecosystems worldwide, including Australia,” Dr. Polverino said. According to him, the attempts to stop or at least slow down the invasion of mosquitofish are unsuccessful. The price is eventually paid by tadpoles of most frog species 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 the invasive mosquitofish from the native tadpoles based on their movement, outline, and behavior so that robots could act differently towards the two species.
“It protects the native tadpoles as a robotic bodyguard by performing real-time attacks towards the invasive mosquitofish when they threaten the tadpoles. We want to demonstrate that the most advanced technology using an engineered robotic fish can help protect Australia’s biodiversity and combat the spread of invasive species.”
Dr. Polverino said the study built on a long-term research collaboration with Professor Maurizio Porfiri and his research group from New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.
“This 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 mosquitofish and attract native species, with stressed mosquitofish that lose most of their energy reserves and likely compromise their survival and fertility in the long term.”