This project is currently in an initial exploratory phase. With your help, we’ll assemble enough videos to launch the KillerCam citizen science platform, at which point your videos will be analyzed by a dedicated team of citizen scientists at Zooniverse.
Cooperation can confer considerable advantages, but cooperative behaviors can vary in complexity from simple “similarity” (where different individuals perform similar actions), “synchrony” (each individual times its actions in response to another’s actions), “coordination” (individuals relate their actions to each other in both time and space), to higher levels of “collaboration” (individuals perform different complementary actions). The first two categories (similarity and synchrony) are the least complex and can be achieved by simply “acting apart together”; coordination and collaboration require an individual to consider and even anticipate the behavior of its companion(s).
Coordination and collaboration have only been documented in a handful of species, with the majority of examples arising from group hunting behavior. Historically, coordination and collaboration were assumed to be widespread in group hunting species. However, recent research suggests the complexity of these cooperative strategies varies among populations and may only occur under a limited set of circumstances. For example, hunting behavior in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) varies depending on the difficulty of prey capture: Tai chimpanzees pursue elusive prey and demonstrate impressive coordination and collaboration during hunts, whereas Gombe chimpanzees pursue easily captured prey and rarely coordinate or collaborate. Similarly, in lions (Panthera leo), evidence for coordination and collaboration is restricted to a single population in Etosha National Park that specializes on difficult prey, whereas other populations show little sign of cooperating above the levels of similarity and synchrony. Likewise, though African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in East Africa often show highly coordinated hunting strategies when pursuing a single wildebeest or gazelle in open habitat, wild dogs in Botswana only hunt simultaneously, with each individual pursuing a separate impala on its own. Thus, the most complex types of cooperative hunting are only found under particular circumstances, and detailed analyses of these behaviors remain scarce.
Clarifying the evolutionary pressures that have led to coordination and collaboration will require detailed analysis of group hunting behavior and large volumes of data. Previous investigations relied on behavioral observations that were often anecdotal or are limited to a single population. The advent of citizen-science platforms and video-analysis software can now allow for innovative analyses on previously impossible scales. We will assemble, upload, and analyze thousands of videos as part of a citizen science project we call KillerCam. Through KillerCam, we aim to identify the factors facilitating different levels of cooperation and to gain new insights into the precise tactics employed during cooperative hunts.
To accomplish these goals, we will collaborate with volunteer programs to collect videos of wild dog and lion hunting behavior. We will provide GoPro cameras and informational materials describing the project aims, protocols, and scientific rationale. We will also help train staff in using the GoPro to record the relevant hunting behaviors. The videos collected by the KillerCam reserves will be uploaded to a citizen science web interface at the University of Minnesota as part of the larger Zooniverse citizen-science platform, which includes our camera-trap project, SnapshotSerengeti, that has enabled the analysis of millions of photographs, resolved issues concerning observer reliability in citizen science and addressed large-scale questions in ecology. Through the KillerCam web interface, online citizen scientists will be instructed how to score specific aspects of hunting behavior. Snapshot Serengeti has analyzed millions of photographs and attracted nearly 100,000 online volunteers. Footage of hunting carnivores will likely garner even greater interest, thereby engaging the public in scientific research and promoting KillerCam reserves.