The Sage Grouse could at the very least be described as elaborate. Native to the sage grasslands of the United States, they are famous for the male’s bombastic mating ritual, and for inhabiting land that is being fragmented by oil and gas activity, oil and gas development, and invaded by cheatgrass. Biologist Gail Patricelli wants to better understand what type of habitat in which the Sage Grouse feels most comfortable reproducing, which led her to invent the Fembot, a once-taxidermied female grouse roboticized into what is essentially a sex robot.  During courtships, males preen their feathers, warble, and, most famously, inflate air sacs above their lungs that sound almost like a cartoon jello wobble when flounced in front of the comparatively drab and petite females. Fembot navigates on a track and Patricelli manipulates the Fembot almost as one would a model train with mounted cameras on wheels, trailing behind the fembot to record interactions. Patricelli places the Fembot in different environments, seeing which habitat elicits the best reaction from the male grouses. Monitoring this kind of behaviour is important because the Sage Grouse is seeing a dramatic decline in numbers, dropping from a population of approximately 16 million to 200,000 in the past couple hundred years; getting those numbers up is vital to their survival. A better understanding of habitat preferences in what little land is left to preserve creates a stronger case for land preservation. Now looking at reproduction doesn’t necessarily solve the root issues that have and are causing a decline in grouse, which are primarily habitat loss and fragmentation, but it is essential for prioritizing sensitive habitat to conserve.

Bartels, Meghan. “Is That a Robo-Bird or Real Lady? For Male Sage-Grouse, Either Will Do.


Artificial Life, Ecological Monitoring, Monitoring