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back to article GPS-equipped sheep prove herd mentality exists

British Boffins from Cambridge, University College London and The Royal Veterinary College have used an Australian farm to research flocking behaviour in herd animals and feel they have validated theories about how herds of animals protect themselves from predators. Detailed in Current Biology, the team started with the long- …

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Anonymous Coward

So

They should put GPS trackers on everyone that goes on a night out into the centre of Birmingham on a Saturday.

They will then have data more relevant to the Herd mentality of human beings, and it will not be a pleasant read.

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WTF?

Huh?

Why'd they need to put GPS trackers on a herd of sheep to prove they bunch up and start bleating when there's a sheepdog around? Couldn't they just watch the sheepdog trials on TV?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Huh?

Once the sheep get into a bunch, it'll become tricky to track the movements of any given individual just by observing the video, on account of sheep all looking a bit similar. With individual trackers they can see more than just the overall milling of the flock.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Huh?

"Once the sheep get into a bunch, it'll become tricky to track the movements of any given individual just by observing the video, on account of sheep all looking a bit similar. With individual trackers they can see more than just the overall milling of the flock."

Doesn't that in it self prove the theory?

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Coat

Re: Huh?

>it'll become tricky to track the movements of any given individual sheep on video

Particularly because once you start to count them you fall asleep in front of the screen ?

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Trollface

Mislead

Here I was thinking the study was done on iThing users...

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Re: Mislead

They tweet, not bleat..

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Facepalm

and in other news

These scientists announced a plan to attach GPS units and excretia sensors to bears......in woods.

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Re: and in other news

With a fanfare they announce the results:

"Ursine defecation predominantly occurs in arboreal locations"

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Unhappy

Quite frankly, this seems to me to be nothing more than an excuse for a nice holiday - why would anyone feel the need to prove this scientifically, when such behaviour has been observed and known about for millennia, and why would British scientists have to go to an Australian farm to do this, aren't there enough sheep and sheepdogs in the UK?

What a waste of money and time.

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quote: "why would anyone feel the need to prove this scientifically, when such behaviour has been observed and known about for millennia"

Primarily, I would assume, so that they actually have some hard data regarding sizes, distances, response times etc. to be able to provide a herd model for predictive purposes? The sun has been observed to rise each morning since the dawn (heh) of civilisation, however if you want a prediction of when it will rise on any particular day, you actually have to spend some time in scientific observation (i.e. writing all the boring details down). Then create a mathematical model, then check the model against observed data and correct accordingly (the model that is, not the data).

Stuff falls when you drop it, but it took Newton to do the rigourous analysis and provide us with the mathematical models we use in ballistics today. People probably wondered why he was wasting his time on something everyone already knew as well ;)

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@numpty Scrub

quote: "Primarily, I would assume, so that they actually have some hard data regarding sizes, distances, response times etc. to be able to provide a herd model for predictive purposes?"

I can see the need to have accurate data for sunrise / sunset, and for the effects of gravity, but really, why would you need to model or predict herd dynamics in ruminants?

Perhaps scientists want to be able to tell sheep farmers they've been doing it wrong, all these years?

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Boffin

@NumptyScrub

" then check the model against observed data and correct accordingly (the model that is, not the data)."

so this isn't climate science then?

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Thumb Up

"More research is needed..."

Obligatory final sentence of any study report.

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Re: "More research is needed..."

Actually, there's a legitimate reason for that. Research has the nasty tendency to point you toward an answer... and a lot more questions!

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Anonymous Coward

Waste of money...

They could have proved this far more simply with iPhone owners... They're already GPS tracked.

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Trollface

Proved, or provided further supporting evidence?

Meaning the title should read something like "GPS-Equipped Sheep Provide Further Evidence of Herd Mentality".

There, fixed it for ya.

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FAIL

Wrong result

Did they really do this? They used a trained sheepdog, that has been taught to herd them into a group. No if they'd used any old dog, it would have done a good job of just scattering them. Perhaps they'd like to repeat the test over here, I will give them the selection of bad tempered rare breed tups (rams) that enjoy (or not) their summer away from the ewes here. They are sort of the ovine equivalent of pit bulls, known to chase dogs, shearers and especially anyone armed with the wormer dosing gun.

If they used Herdwicks, they see the dog coming from half a mile away and hoof it, that's why Cumbrian collies have to be ruddy fast, or know how to sneak up on the wooly backed maggots.

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Couldn't they just have asked a shepherd?

See title.

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Flame

Apparently not many bothered to follow the link and read the paper

Or even read the one paragraph abstract. Those who did would realize that the headline on the Reg article is wildly inaccurate, the scientists were not trying to prove herd mentality exists. They were trying to show that herding is influenced by predators and essentially a selfish behavior - the sheep try to move to the center of the flock to minimize their exposure to predators, and this continues until they are tightly packed. From the references it looks like this has been shown in other types of animals before, they were confirming those studies this time using sheep.

The reason they installed GPS trackers on individual sheep was presumably to watch as a few who are exposed closest to the predator move towards the center, new sheep are exposed which then also move towards the center, and so on. I suppose they could have just filmed them from above and played it in slow motion to follow individual sheep, but it's not as if GPS trackers are expensive.

I love how so many Reg readers think they are so much smarter than scientists doing studies. Scientists very rarely get funding for studies that prove the obvious (and if they do, it is usually only one step in something that will go further but they have to first prove the "obvious" so the referees on future papers don't question their "obvious" assumption)

Bad journalism often makes studies sound like they are proving the obvious, but surprisingly stupid readers who can't be bothered to spend a few seconds following a link apparently can be bothered to spend a few minutes writing smartass comments. It would have been nice if the author had spend a few more seconds reading the abstract, and therefore been able to compose a better headline!

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Is GPS actually accurate enough for this?

I thought consumer GPS was accurate to 3 metres (ish), is that actually enough for this kind of thing? Or atleast more accurate than you could have achieved with some paint (colour coded sheep) and a decent video camera?

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