Information theory and robotics meet to study predator-prey interactions

Daniele Neri, Tommaso Ruberto, Gabrielle Cord-Cruz, Maurizio Porfiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transfer entropy holds promise to advance our understanding of animal behavior, by affording the identification of causal relationships that underlie animal interactions. A critical step toward the reliable implementation of this powerful information-theoretic concept entails the design of experiments in which causal relationships could be systematically controlled. Here, we put forward a robotics-based experimental approach to test the validity of transfer entropy in the study of predator-prey interactions. We investigate the behavioral response of zebrafish to a fear-evoking robotic stimulus, designed after the morpho-physiology of the red tiger oscar and actuated along preprogrammed trajectories. From the time series of the positions of the zebrafish and the robotic stimulus, we demonstrate that transfer entropy correctly identifies the influence of the stimulus on the focal subject. Building on this evidence, we apply transfer entropy to study the interactions between zebrafish and a live red tiger oscar. The analysis of transfer entropy reveals a change in the direction of the information flow, suggesting a mutual influence between the predator and the prey, where the predator adapts its strategy as a function of the movement of the prey, which, in turn, adjusts its escape as a function of the predator motion. Through the integration of information theory and robotics, this study posits a new approach to study predator-prey interactions in freshwater fish.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number073111
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Applied Mathematics


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