Into the (virtual) jungle
Research in animal behavior is changing. Traditionally, human researchers directly observed animals in remote settings and noted their behaviors. Now, researchers can also use sensor technologies to track animal movement and capture rich data about a habitat. This "Big Data" approach presents tremendous opportunities, tracking more animals over longer time spans and larger areas. However, it also removes researchers from direct data collection, making it harder to keep humans "in the loop". Working with anthropologist Meg Crofoot (UC Davis) and computer scientist Tanya Berger-Wolf (UIC), we are exploring how virtual reality might help animal behavior researchers view, explore and step inside their data. We have recreated the Barro Colorado Island, a research habitat in Panama, in CAVE2, an immersive environment at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at UIC, using data from lidar scans and aerial photos. This visualization will allow our collaborators to stand on the ground, leap through the trees or fly above the canopy to observe how tracked animals forage for food. In this picture, we are looking at GPS positions of one capuchin monkey, visualized as spheres colored on a blue-orange gradient by time of day, and observing how often he visits pink-hued fruit trees in the canopy.