A new study helps explain a poorly characterized but common animal behavior and shows that foraging mammals take advantage of the physics of how odors move in the air and across the ground.
Most people are familiar with seeing a rabbit pausing and standing on its hind legs to sniff the air, or a dog alternating between sniffing the ground and the sky. But deciphering why animals exhibit these behaviors is a challenge for scientists.
“We used what we know about how scent is carried by the wind and on the ground to better understand why animals exhibit these behaviors,” explains co-lead author Nicola Rigolli, postdoctoral researcher at the Machine Learning Genoa Center, Dept Civil Chemical . Environmental Engineering, University of Genoa, Italy. “We then used machine learning techniques to identify the optimal strategy for locating the source of an odor.”
In their experiments, the team created computer simulations of how odors move in a turbulent environment. They then modeled the pros and cons of different approaches an animal might take to detect a scent. The models show that a computer-simulated animal designed to minimize the time it takes to track an odor would alternate between sniffing the air and flinging along the surface of the ground to detect the odor. to find.
When an animal is far downwind of the scent, they will pause and get up to sniff more often, as they are more likely to catch a distant scent in the air. As they approach the source of the scent, animals will sniff the ground more often and pause less often to sniff the air.
“Scents in the air are scarce and harder to track than scents along the ground, but they move faster and over longer distances. The benefits of sniffing near the ground or in the air therefore vary depending on the distance of the animal to the source of the smell,” explains. co-lead author Gautam Reddy. Reddy conducted the study as a postdoctoral researcher at the NSF-Simons Center for Mathematical and Statistical Analysis of Biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The team’s discoveries could also apply to marine animals such as crabs or mollusks, which also seem to move their bodies at different heights as they track a potential food source. But the authors cautioned that the model is a simplified version of real life. It does not take into account every possible variable that can influence animal behavior. For example, animals may have a more limited capacity to remember information than a computer, and their memory limitations may affect their behavior.
“We hope our results inspire other scientists to conduct experiments with dogs, rodents and aquatic animals that can help us learn more about these behaviors in the real world,” concludes senior author Massimo Vergassola. Vergassola led the research while working first at the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics, and then at the Laboratoire de physique de l’École Normale Supérieure, Sorbonne Université, Paris, in collaboration with fellow lead author, Agnese Seminara, a professor of fluid dynamics at the University of Genoa.
The research was published in eLife.
What the nose doesn’t know helps wildlife: using olfactory cues to protect vulnerable species
Nicola Rigolli et al, Alternation emerges as a multimodal strategy for turbulent odor navigation, eLife (2022). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.76989
Quote: Animals found to track scents using alternating strategies of ground and air sniffing (2022, Aug 23) retrieved Aug 23, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-animals-track-scents-alternating -strategies.html
This document is copyrighted. Other than fair dealing for personal study or research, nothing may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.