In a study published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, researchers detail a new camera technology that can show how animals see the world, converting digital photos that can be analyzed for patterns and colors.
Thanks to the software, plant and animal signaling, animal predation and camouflage can be studied, but it can also be used for measuring colors objectively and accurately. The Sensory Ecology group has used the software extensively for a wide array of studies, including research that determines camouflage aspects that protect nightjar clutches from predators, tracks changes in face color of women throughout their ovulation cycle and color changes in green shore crabs.
"Viewing the world through the eyes of another animal has now become much easier thanks to our new software," said Dr. Jolyon Troscianko from the University of Exeter's Center for Ecology Conservation.
He further explained that while digital cameras are already powerful tools that can measure patterns and colors in nature, using digital photos to accurately and reliably measure color has been difficult. With the software, Troscianko and other researchers can calibrate images and turn them into pictures based on what animals see to measure how scenes unfold to humans and non-humans.
Until now, no software program that has the ability to calibrate images has been user-friendly enough to simplify incorporating layers, convert to animal color spaces and easily measure images. Instead, researchers have had to manually do all the tasks, including calculations and programming that can be complex sometimes. The open-source software changes all of this.
Humans see three colors (blue, green and red) while other mammals are more sensitive to just two colors (yellow and blue). While it will be impossible for people to see beyond the three primary colors, this is no problem for amphibians, reptiles, birds and insects. Additionally, many animals can also see into the ultraviolet range, something completely invisible to humans.
To view images as animals see them, a camera that has been converted to be sensitive to the full spectrum is used to capture a photograph. First, a visible-pass filter is used, followed by an ultraviolet-pass filter. The image is fed into the software and another is produced after the software generates functions to re-calibrate the photo.
So for, the researchers have been able to provide data needed by the camera to simulate images seen by commonly studied animals like honey bees, peafowl, blue tits, ferrets as well as some fish.
The software can be downloaded for free by anyone interested.