A few weeks in the Tibetan Plateau

During the months of May and June, the ABG travelled to the Tibetan Plateau in the Sichuan Province of China, as part of our collaboration with the Chengdu Institute of Biology (Chinese Academy of Sciences). Our research aims to understand the purpose of movement-based signals, and the specific function of the different motor patterns that constitute those signals. The Qinghai toad-headed agama (Phrynocephalus vlangalii) is an ideal study species for this purpose given its high levels of sociality and territoriality, the high density of their populations, and their complex signalling behaviour.

During this field trip, we tested the potential for using a robotic lizard model to elicit signal responses from free-living lizards. In this manner, we could control the motion and speed of the signal produced by the ‘intruder’, and better understand its function by studying the response of the resident lizard.

The trip was not without obstacles, the biggest of which was the cold and unpredictable weather that characterises the region even during summer. On the bright side, the snowstorms managed to make our study site even more striking and beautiful.

Despite the less than ideal circumstances, we were able to confirm that wild lizards in the genus Phrynocephalus respond to robots, and now believe that this area of research holds great potential. The next step is to continue improving the robotic model in order to make it more efficient and reliable, and hopefully visit China again in the near future.