Algorithm Could Save Hours of Analyzing Animal Behavior

Anup Shah/Getty

Artificial intelligence is useful for detecting patterns in video.

A new method uses artificial intelligence to analyze animal behavior, which could lead to longer-term in-depth studies in the field of behavioral science.

In addition, the advance helps to improve animal welfare. The method is already in testing at the Zurich Zoo.

Researchers engaged in animal behavior studies often rely on hours upon hours of video footage that they manually analyze. Usually, this requires researchers to work their way through recordings spanning several weeks or months, laboriously noting down observations on the animals’ behavior.

Now researchers at ETH Zurich and University of Zurich have come up with an automated way to analyze these kinds of recordings. The image-analysis algorithm they have developed makes use of computer vision and machine learning. It can distinguish individual animals and identify specific behaviors, such as those that signal curiosity, fear, or harmonious social interactions with other members of their species.

The technology essentially offers scientists a one-click solution for automatically analyzing video footage, however lengthy or detailed the recordings are. Another advantage of the new method is its reproducibility: if different groups of researchers use the same algorithm to analyze their video data, comparing results is easier because everything is based on the same standards.

The new algorithm is also so sensitive that it can even identify subtle behavioral changes that develop very gradually over long periods of time. “Those are the kinds of changes that are often tricky to spot with the human eye,” says Markus Marks, lead author of the research study in Nature Machine Intelligence and a postdoctoral researcher in the group of professor of neurotechnology Mehmet Fatih Yanik.

The researchers trained the machine-learning algorithm with video footage of mice and macaques in captivity. However, they stress that the method can be applied to all animal species. News of their new method has already spread through the scientific community. The researchers have made the algorithm available to other researchers on a public platform, and many of their colleagues around the world are already using it.

“Interest has been particularly high among primate researchers, and our technology is already being used by a group that is researching wild chimpanzees in Uganda,” Marks says.

This is probably because the method can also be used to analyze complex social interactions in animal communities, such as identifying which animals groom other members of their group and how often this occurs. “Our method offers some major advantages over previous machine-learning-based behavioral analysis algorithms, especially when it comes to analyzing social behavior in complex settings,” Marks says.

The new method can also be used to improve animal husbandry, enabling round-the-clock monitoring to automatically single out abnormal behaviors. By detecting adverse social interactions or the onset of disease early on, keepers can swiftly respond to improve conditions for the animals in their care.

The researchers are also currently collaborating with Zurich Zoo, which wants to further improve its animal husbandry and conduct automated behavioral research. For example, in a recently published study examining patterns of elephant sleep behavior, zoo researchers had to manually annotate nocturnal video recordings. Their hope is that the new method would let them automate and scale up such findings in the future.

Finally, the method is used in fundamental research in the fields of biology, neurobiology, and medicine. “Our method can recognize even subtle or rare behavioral changes in research animals, such as signs of stress, anxiety, or discomfort,” says Yanik. “Therefore, it can not only help to improve the quality of animal studies but also helps to reduce the number of animals and the strain on them.” Yanik is planning to use the method himself as part of his neurobiological research in the field of imitation learning.

This article was originally published in Futurity. It has been republished under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.