The Ecology of Dance

Post provided by Chloe Robinson

Dance has been part of human culture for millennia. Some scholars refer to dance as a specific language, dependent on the space and time in which it exists and dependent on the power structures that rule in that time. April 29th marks International Dance Day; a day initiated in 1982 by the International Dance Committee of the UNESCO International Theatre Institute to commemorate the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, a distinguished French choreographer.

Male Maratus volans peacock spider. Picture credit: Jürgen Otto.

For humans, dance is considered a sacred ritual, sometimes a form of communication and sometimes an important social and courtship activity. A recent study has even linked the innate ability to dance with greater survival rates in prehistoric times. However, for certain species of wild animal, dance-like behaviours are crucial for communication and mating. In this blog, I am going to highlight the evolutionary foundations of dance in wild animals and explore some of the ways that dance is used in ecology.

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Animal Behaviour through a Virtual Lens

Motion vision is an important source of information for many animals. It facilitates an animal’s movement through an environment, as well as being essential for locating prey and detecting predators. However, information on the conditions for motion vision in natural environments is limited.

To address this, Bian et al. have developed an innovative approach that combines novel field techniques with tools from 3D animation to determine how habitat structure, weather and motion vision influence animal behaviour. Their project focuses on Australia’s charismatic dragon lizards, and will place the animals’ motion displays in a visual-ecological context. The application of this approach goes well beyond this topic and the authors suggest the motion graphic technologies is a valuable tool for investigating the visual ecology of animals in a range of environments and at different spatial and temporal scales.

This video is based on the article ‘Integrating evolutionary biology with digital arts to quantify ecological constraints on vision-based behaviour by Bian et al.