This is an information portal for all aspects of an NSF-funded research project at Winston-Salem State University. Beginning in 2012, and running until 2017, faculty at WSSU will use NSF funds to conduct research into animal social behavior, and to increase educational opportunities in Animal Behavior for students on campus.

Students will work in the lab using computer models and video analysis, and will have opportunities to conduct field research in Texas on bat social behavior. Each summer, 2-3 students will join the faculty and post-docs at national and international conferences on animal behavior.

The Animal Behavior project at WSSU involves many people, including two faculty members, a post-doctoral researcher, and many undergraduate students. Each member of the lab takes responsibility for a different piece of the project, and we work together to produce the final products, including a simulation model, poster presentations, and, eventually, manuscripts.

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Current Project Members

Steven Viscido, Principal Investigator

Dr. Viscido studies social behavior in animals. His research focuses on the reasons why animals form groups, and on the individual behaviors that lead to collective decision-making in animal groups such as fish schools, bird flocks, and insect swarms. He currently has a 5-year NSF-funded research grant to create computer simulation models of animal groups, and is working with WSSU undergraduates to analyze movement patterns of fiddler crab herds and bat flocks. He frequently collaborates with Dr. Hristov from the Center for Design Innovation.


Additional Project Members
  • Dr. Nickolay (Nick) Hristov
  • Dr. Katherine Thorington
  • Ms. Jessica Lyons

Education

There is a special Liberal Learning Seminar course under development in Animal Behavior, tentatively titled “Why Animals Do It.” This course will be open to all students, and will satisfy the LLS requirement of General Education. Students will learn key concepts in Animal Behavior, and will conduct their own experiments using computer simulations. At the end of the term, students will participate in a poster symposium to present their findings. All students will receive a USB thumb drive bearing the course number and logo as a permanent memento of the course.

Research

The focus of Animal Behavior research at WSSU is the quantitative analysis of animal group behavior. Specifically, we study the collective behavior observed in large groups of animals, such as fish schools, bird flocks, and zebra herds. Traditionally, research into animal groups has followed one of two paths – optimization, which examines how an individual benefits from being a group member, and self-organization, which examines how individual movements give rise to group behaviors. To date, few studies have combined the two.

Therefore, our project’s main goal is to develop a model in which we dynamically link optimization and self-organization models. Conceptually, this model will combine optimization concerns, such as the animal’s fitness improving from being in a large group, with self-organization concerns, such as how the animal must alter its movement to join a group of the desired size. When complete, this model will allow a fuller exploration of animal group behavior.

The model is currently still being developed, but once it is ready for testing, it will be posted on the Sourceforge and available free of charge.

Behavioral Ecology Internship

Each semester, our lab employs two undergraduate students in Biology, Mathematics, or Computer Science. Students work 10 hours per week to conduct cutting edge research in the modeling or statistical analysis of animal social behavior.

Dynamic Linkage

This project will create a user-friendly modeling system for studying animal social aggregations. The model codifies the a new hypothesis that the animal's state, kinematics, and the group's emergent properties are dynamically linked together, with each one affecting the others. The model will be constructed using Object-Oriented MatLab.