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article imageGamers help scientists understand animal camouflage

By Tim Sandle     May 2, 2017 in Science
University of Exeter researchers have shown how online computer games can help researchers to understand animal camouflage and color vision. This is the result of a project more than 30,000 people have played a series of video games.
The unusual fusing of biological science with computer science cam together to allow researchers to try and understand why many animals are dichromats (having two types of color receptor cells in their eyes - di meaning "two" and chroma meaning "color"); whereas others, such as humans, are trichromats (with three types of color cells). They also wanted to learn why color vision affects animals' ability to detect camouflaged prey.
Because many animals are red-green color blind in many animals the researchers reasoned that there could be an evolutionary advantage to seeing in just two primary colors. It follows that many biologists have reasoned that finding camouflaged prey is easier for dichromats with red-green colour blindness. This is because seeing a wide range of colors probably interferes with an animal’s ability to detect camouflaged objects.
To delve into this the research group ran a study where computer gamers were shown photographs. With these they were tasked with finding camouflaged nightjar birds or nests containing eggs. The photographs were either presented in normal color or in versions designed to imitate the limited colors seen by the dichromatic vision of predators. To make the process more ‘fun’, the exercise took the form of a points scoring computer game.
However, the research produced results counter to the prevailing biological theory. The results suggested that trichromats (humans looking at the color photographs) found the nightjars and eggs faster than dichromats (simulated by humans looking at the modified photographs). There was a difference, nonetheless, over how much the time taken for the dichromats' to spot the birds and nests depending upon the different camouflage types (these varied by patterns and brightness). This time as made up, though, as those viewing the dichromats simulated photographs improved.
Principal researcher Dr Jolyon Trosciank explains: "This research demonstrates the power of citizen science -- using help from online participants to tackle novel scientific questions.”
He adds: “Our findings suggest that the role of colour perception in spotting camouflaged objects is complex, and this could help explain why colour vision with just two receptor types is so widespread in nature."
So where trichromats are better overall, dichromats are sometimes better at differentiating between light and dark and at finding hidden objects.
The research has been published in the journal Behavioral Ecology. The research paper is titled “elative Advantages of Dichromatic and Trichromatic Color Vision in Camouflage Breaking.” For those wishing to play the games, they are available online.
More about Gamers, Game, Camouflage, Computer game, Animals
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