Australian Scientists Are Using 3D Animation To Study Lizard Behaviour

Australian Scientists Are Using 3D Animation To Study Lizard Behaviour

Pixar’s next wildlife-themed buddy adventure could be more realistic than ever. As long as it is about a lizard claiming territory, at least.

Digital animation is now being used to see just how well “territorial displays” from lizards work in a range of different environments.

A team from La Trobe University’s School of Life Sciences, led by Dr Richard Peters, worked with academics from Monash University’s Faculty of IT to create, using 3D animation, a series of varied environmental settings and weather conditions, made up of different plant environments and wind conditions, to see how lizard displays are affected by this variation.

“The use of movement to communicate is common among lizards, but it has been impossible to observe lizard signalling behaviour in every type of ecological setting using traditional methods such as using multiple cameras in the wild,” Dr Peters said.

“Our research team therefore devised an innovative way of combining evolutionary biology with digital arts to create a 3D animation tool that simulates three spatial dimensions plus movement through time.”

La Trobe University PhD student and lead author, Xue (“Snow”) Bian, explained how a real Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) was filmed using a dual camera system.

“The lizard’s signalling was reconstructed by digitising the position of multiple body parts through the sequence, subsequently combining the data from the two camera views to reconstruct the signalling motion in 3D,” Ms Bian said.

“Then four scenarios were created using the same lizard signal in different plant environments and weather conditions to explore how these different ecological contexts affected signal effectiveness,” explained Dr Tom Chandler from Monash University.

Dr Peters said that using animation as a research tool will allow scientists to measure much more accurately the behavioural signals of lizards.

“This exciting development in evolutionary biology opens up all sorts of other possibilities for studying animal behaviour in a range of settings, including in environments affected by climate change and habitat modification,” Dr Peters said.

“Under such circumstances, lizard signals might be more noticeable, therefore making the lizard more vulnerable to predators.”

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