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J R Soc Interface. 2013 Jan 6;10(78):20120547. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2012.0547. Epub 2012 Oct 3.

Three-dimensional tracking and behaviour monitoring of multiple fruit flies.

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  • 1Molecular and Computational Biology Program, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-2910, USA.


The increasing interest in the investigation of social behaviours of a group of animals has heightened the need for developing tools that provide robust quantitative data. Drosophila melanogaster has emerged as an attractive model for behavioural analysis; however, there are still limited ways to monitor fly behaviour in a quantitative manner. To study social behaviour of a group of flies, acquiring the position of each individual over time is crucial. There are several studies that have tried to solve this problem and make this data acquisition automated. However, none of these studies has addressed the problem of keeping track of flies for a long period of time in three-dimensional space. Recently, we have developed an approach that enables us to detect and keep track of multiple flies in a three-dimensional arena for a long period of time, using multiple synchronized and calibrated cameras. After detecting flies in each view, correspondence between views is established using a novel approach we call the 'sequential Hungarian algorithm'. Subsequently, the three-dimensional positions of flies in space are reconstructed. We use the Hungarian algorithm and Kalman filter together for data association and tracking. We evaluated rigorously the system's performance for tracking and behaviour detection in multiple experiments, using from one to seven flies. Overall, this system presents a powerful new method for studying complex social interactions in a three-dimensional environment.

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