Understanding animal signals

Different environmental conditions are being modelled in 3D to better understand how animals signal to each other

Vision is one of the best ways of getting real time information about your surroundings. Animals use visual signals, including movement, to affect each other’s behavior and communication. But there is limited information about how different environmental factors, such as weather and light conditions, affects an animal’s ability to see these signals – and therefore how and why different signals evolve.

In collaboration with Dr Richard Peters (La Trobe University) we are using 3D animation to model how effective motion signals are in different situations. Experiments have been carried out by drawing on knowledge and data to generate microhabitats and different environmental conditions.

Graphics created by Rick Laird, Xue Bian and Angela Pinilla

We have shown that 3D animation can be used as an effective a laboratory tool. The catalogue of animations created has allowed us to explore how efficient a movement signal is in different wind and light conditions from different points of view. The animations also allow us to see how changes in the timing of these signals mitigates the effects of different environmental conditions.

The research project is ongoing.

Project members


Tom Chandler
Warwick Laird
Chandara Ung


La Trobe

Richard Peters
Xue Bian
Angela Pinilla



Research paper: Integrating evolutionary biology with digital arts to quantify ecological constraints on vision-based behaviour Bian , X., Chandler, T. T., Laird, W. T., Pinilla Angarita, A. V. & Peters, R. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.9, 3, p. 544-559 16 p.

Media coverage of paper publication