Can Invasive Fish Be Scared Off With a Menacing Robot Predator?

The mosquitofish threatens native fish populations in Australia — including two of the most criticially endangered, reports the New York Times. And in various parts of the world, "For decades scientists have been trying to figure out how to control it, without damaging the surrounding ecosystem. But in a new lab experiment, "the mosquitofish may have finally met its match: A menacing fish-shaped robot." It's "their worst nightmare," said Giovanni Polverino, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Western Australia and the lead author of a paper published Thursday in iScience, in which scientists designed a simulacrum of the fish's natural predator, the largemouth bass, to strike at the mosquitofish, scaring it away from its prey. The robot not only freaked the mosquitofish out, but scarred them with such lasting anxiety that their reproduction rates dropped; evidence that could have long term implications for the species' viability, according to the paper. "You don't need to kill them," Dr. Polverino said. Instead, he said, "we can basically inject fear into the system, and the fear kills them slowly...." [S]cientists say there is a long way to go before the robot could be released into the wild. "It's an important proof of concept," said Peter Klimley, a marine biologist and a recently retired professor from the University of California, Davis, who was not involved in the study. But he questioned the feasibility of introducing the creature into a real-world environment. "This study won't be a solution to the problem," Dr. Polverino said, adding that the next phase of their project would involve testing the robots in a larger, outdoor, freshwater pool. He said the robot should be thought of as a tool that can reveal a pest's weaknesses. "We've built a sort of vulnerability profile," Dr. Polverino said, that could help biologists and others to reimagine how to control invasive species. "This fear," he added, "has a collateral effect." Their robot fish uses a built-in camera to differentiate between mosquitofish and the native tadpoles it's trying to protect. Thanks to long-time Slashdot reader fahrbot-bot for the link!

Read more of this story at Slashdot.