Ecology of fear in highly invasive fish revealed by robots

Giovanni Polverino, Vrishin R. Soman, Mert Karakaya, Clelia Gasparini, Jonathan P. Evans, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Invasive species threaten biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. We develop an innovative experimental approach, integrating biologically inspired robotics, time-series analysis, and computer vision, to build a detailed profile of the effects of non-lethal stress on the ecology and evolution of mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki)—a global pest. We reveal that brief exposures to a robotic predator alter mosquitofish behavior, increasing fear and stress responses, and mitigate the impact of mosquitofish on native tadpoles (Litoria moorei) in a cause-and-effect fashion. Effects of predation risk from the robot carry over to routine activity and feeding rate of mosquitofish weeks after exposure, resulting in weight loss, variation in body shape, and reduction in the fertility of both sexes—impairing survival, reproduction, and ecological success. We capitalize on evolved responses of mosquitofish to reduce predation risk—neglected in biological control practices—and provide scientific foundations for widespread use of state-of-the-art robotics in ecology and evolution research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103529
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 21 2022


  • Biological Sciences
  • Ecology
  • Zoology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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