Dealing With Invasive Species Through Robotics

Throughout its history, humankind’s travels have often brought unwelcome guests along for the ride, and sometimes introduced species into a new environment for a variety of reasons. These so-called invasive species are all too often responsible for widespread devastation in ecosystems, wiping out entire species and disrupting the natural balance. Now researchers are testing the use of robots for population control of these invasive species.

The mosquitofish is the target of current research by NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the University of Western Australia. Originally from parts of the US and Mexico, it was introduced elsewhere for mosquito control, including in Australia. There it has become a massive problem, destroying native species that used to eat mosquitoes. As a result the mosquito problem has actually worsened.

As the main issue with these invasive species is that they do not have any natural predators that might control their numbers, the researchers created robots which mimic the look and motion of natural predators. In the case of the mosquitofish the largemouth bass is its primary predator. The theory was that by exposing the mosquitofish to something that looks and moves just like one of these predator fish, they would exhibit the same kind of stress response.

So far laboratory tests under controlled condition have confirmed these expectations, with the mosquitofish displaying clear signs of stress upon exposure to the robotic largemouth bass. Even better, they displayed decreasing weight and were found to avoid potentially dangerous areas, indicating that instead of focusing on foraging, they were in survival mode. This should limit their environmental impact, including their ability to procreate.

Who knows, before long the surface waters of Australia may be home to the first robotic species of fish.

(Thanks, [Qes])

23 thoughts on “Dealing With Invasive Species Through Robotics

  1. This is great research! But it seems like evolution could present some challenges. Would fish lacking the genes for predator avoidance gain an advantage? I would expect those fish to dominate populations where there are robots but no “real” predators.

  2. Oh, let’s dump some electronic garbage into our waters and call it research. Seriously, one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a while. These things will run out of battery quick, not stay where they should and be ingested by large predators. Stressing a few fish out isn’t going to push back invasive species. Real predators are!

    1. The problem started with introducing a foreign species into the ecosystem in the first place, if you introduce mosquito fish predators they’ll probably be like “My usual prey are hard to catch, but the local fish are easy, I’m gonna stuff myself”. Repeating the same thing and expecting a different result, what do they say about that?

      1. The native predators need to eat them. Foreign predators are only last resort option and will not eradicate the invasive species but only limit the population. Once the system is fuucked up, there is no good solution. Dumping electronics garbage into the water won’t change that

    2. “Oh, let’s dump some electronic garbage into our waters and call it research. Seriously, one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a while.”

      That seems a bit harsh! At least they’re trying to address a problem. And I don’t think Australians would be keen to introduce any new species to eat the mosquitofish. If you haven’t seen the cane toads documentary, I highly recommend it. It makes a great case for why it’s a bad idea to introduce new species to Australia (or anywhere else).

      Since they can’t introduce a species, they need an alternative approach. I agree that the robot strategy has some issues, but it’s better than many alternatives.

  3. So, what would happen to the mosquito population, after introducing ‘Big Mouth Billy Bass’ into scaring them into not eating? Couldn’t they GMO them, to be more attractive to the local predictors? Food is still food, maybe they aren’t seasoned right. wouldn’t it just be easier to use real bass? They are fun to catch, and good eating, what could possibly go wrong? Those little fish look mostly harmless, don’t see the problem. They ought to be working on the python and monitor lizard problem in Florida…

  4. “There it has become a massive problem, destroying native species that used to eat mosquitoes. As a result the mosquito problem has actually worsened.”

    Australian mosquitos must be quite fearsome for a fish named after them choose to eat other things. (c:

  5. Reminds me of the thing I need to get on with ASAP.
    Q: Why would you need to make a zero-g Jacob’s Ladder from a Mazilli driver and some NdFeB magnets?
    A: Because you used up all the Brakleen and (of course) the BMSBs just keep coming.

    1. This is the same nanny state country that ‘needs’ to kill millions of feral cats. I am going to laugh when China invades Australia some day. They don’t focus on things that truly matter. The same goes for NZ. The holier than thou attitude towards the rest of the Western world has worn thin. Good luck with China guys!

  6. The robot may be a simple analogue of a largemouth bass in some respects ,but the fish will probably become habituated to their presence in time, especially if they do not represent the full continuum of sensory outputs, those type of fish (the mosquito fish )can evolve quickly also.Still superb engineering and science though.

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