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Project Details

Zooentropy Projects - An Overview

One view of animal behavior is that it's part of a complex adaptive system that optimizes biological encounters. Animals specialize on key resources in their environments, but remain flexible enough to pivot when things change or times get tough.

In that sense, Stuart Kauffman’s argument that “…complex systems constructed so that they’re on the boundary between order and chaos are those best able to adapt…” (Kauffman 1993, Origins of Order) seems particularly relevant to animal behavior.

We know that animal behavior is structured in time and space, and sequences of behavior can be incredibly dynamic, ranging from highly predictable to virtually chaotic, sometimes in the same individual over a short period of time.

The key question we are asking is, can we harness complexity to learn about and predict animal health, welfare and environmental suitability?

That’s the essence of Zooentropy …

Read about our projects below


Zooentropy @ Japan Monkey Centre

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Indianapolis Zoo orangutan logo. Image Credit: Indianapolis Zoo
Participants : Andrew MacIntosh, Chris Martin
Location : Indianapolis Zoo, Indiana, USA
Year : 2022~

Zooentropy’s first international zoo partner | Indianapolis Zoo

One of the great things about working with Indianapolis Zoo is that it reunites former fellow grad students Andrew MacIntosh and Chris Martin. Who, somewhat tangentially, co-founded the world’s first and at the time only (disclaimer: to our knowledge!) podcast about primatology: The PrimateCast.

Indianapolis Zoo is the first international partner zoo to join with us and explore behavioral complexity for animal health and welfare assessment.

In addition to being a great place to visit, Indianapolis zoo is also committed to animal welfare and conservation. In particular, it is well know for its conservation grants and for awarding the prestigious Indianapolis Prize, which is the world’s leading prize for conservation leaders.

Indianapolis Zoo also boasts the Global Center for Species Survival, which is a partnership between them and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission.

The zoo is also home to a world-renowned research program that explores the cognition of great apes, led by President and CEO Rob Shumaker and Research Scientist (now Director of Research) Chris Martin.

MacIntosh and Martin have collaborated in the past on a project assessing complexity in choice patterns made by chimpanzees and orangutans while playing a competitive game known as matching pennies. Now, we aim to grow this collaboration to explore complexity signatures in the behavior of a range of species at Indy Zoo living in diverse conditions.

Follow our Blogs page for updates on this and all our projects, or subscribe to our Newsletter to receive progress summaries via email when available.

Zooentropy @ Japan Monkey Centre


White-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) at Japan Monkey Centre, Inuyama. Photo Credit: Andrew MacIntosh
Participants : Andrew MacIntosh, Kodzue Kinoshita, Misato Hayashi, Koshiro Watanuki, Rie Akami, Zhihong Xu, Peini Chen, Yuka Goto,
Location : Japan Monkey Centre, Inuyama, Japan
Year : 2021~

The Japan Monkey Centre (JMC) is one of the world’s most unique zoo-museums. It is completely dominated by monkeys and apes! And, it’s known to be the most diverse collection of living primates in the world.

With primates from all corners of the world, representing all of the major groups within the primate family tree, JMC presents a unique opportunity not only to discover what primates are – in all their shapes and colors – but also to study them.

Totally unrelated to Zooentropy, but my favorite JMC-based study to date has to be this study about white sclera in humans and other primates by Hiromi Kobayashi and my Professor Emeritus colleague at Kyoto University’s Wildlife Research Center Shiro Kohshima!

We hope to leverage this incredible diversity by measuring behavior patterns in primates of myriad species to understand what drives them to act the way they do in zoo conditions. At JMC, we can study more arboreal versus more terrestrial species, or more frugivorous versus more folivorous species, or even gumnivorous or insectivorous species.

We can investigate differences between Old and New World Monkeys, or between finer taxonomic groups like colobines versus cercopithecines, or callitrichids (tamarins and marmosets) versus cebids (capuchins). With over 60 species of monkey and ape, JMC offers unparalleled opportunity for comparison.

The ability to observe hundreds of individuals of all ages, both male and female, also allows for investigation of demographic effects on behavior, as well as the development of species- and individual-specific behavior patterns over an animal’s lifetime.

Layered on top of that is the ability to to examine how different housing conditions interact with species-specific traits to determine behavior patterns. How different enrichment strategies lead (or not) to more desired or naturalistic behavior. And, in rare cases, how relocation or other strategic interventions might improve behavior, health and welfare.

And, as just alluded to, having such a diverse collection of species provides ample opportunity to collaborate and compare the behavior of JMC primates with that of their wild counterparts.

The aim of our work is to establish baselines against which any number of influential variables can be assessed:

  • application of environmental and cognitive enrichment

  • relocation of animals

  • living conditions

  • visitor impacts

  • weather patterns

We hope the results of this endeavor will be of interest to and provide valuable information for managers of primate and other animal collections worldwide.

Follow our Blogs page for updates on this and all our projects, or subscribe to our Newsletter to receive progress summaries via email when available.

Zooentropy @ Kyoto City Zoo

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The main gate at Kyoto City Zoo. Photo Credit: iUP
Participants : Andrew MacIntosh, Yumi Yamanashi, Kodzue Kinoshita, Peini Chen, Yuka Goto
Location : Kyoto City Zoo, Kyoto, Japan
Year : 2021~

Similar to Zooentropy @ Japan Monkey Centre (JMC), we aim to better understand the causes of certain behavioral signatures by studying species at Kyoto City Zoo. Unlike JMC, however, Kyoto City Zoo allows us to study a much wider diversity of animals, not just primates, living in a wider array of environments.

Kyoto City Zoo is among the only zoos in Japan to have a dedicated research section. We work closely with the Center for Research and Education of Wildlife, so we’re also able to take advantage of their existing framework for research at the zoo, which includes assessment of monitoring and welfare technologies and techniques.

Through Kyoto City Zoo, we hope to further promote novel approaches to behavior monitoring and welfare assessment that can be designed to improve enrichment programs and public outreach and education.

Follow our Blogs page for updates on this and all our projects, or subscribe to our Newsletter to receive progress summaries via email when available.

Seabird Behavior in Fractal Time

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Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) walks across the sea ice at Geology Point, Adelie Land, Antarctica. Photo Credit: Andrew MacIntosh
Participants : Andrew MacIntosh, Yan Ropert-Coudert, Akiko Kato, Xavier Meyer, Andre Chiaradia
Location : Antarctica, Australia, Southern Hemisphere
Year : 2012~

Antarctic seabirds like penguins inhabit ecosystems that are among the most sensitive to climate change. Relying on the sea ice and the other organisms that depend on it, Adelie penguins, for example, now face conditions that challenge their foraging success and reproduction in ways we’ve never seen before.

Through our extended Zooentropy network, we are trying to understand the range of conditions that influence temporal dynamics in penguin foraging behavior. By establishing baselines and identifying factors that cause deviations in them, we aim to turn penguin dive profiles into the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine‘ so that we can identify populations that might be at risk, from climate change and other threats that cause habitat disturbance.

This work uses biologging technology like time-depth recorders to gather high-resolution time series data that we can analyze in novel ways. Advances in this kind of technology have done wonders for our ability to monitor and understand animal behavior remotely, in the environments the animals themselves are perfectly adapted to, and where we cannot reach using more traditional observational means.

Here’s a great User’s Guide to the range of biologging technologies in use today written by Whitford and Klimley (2019) in the journal Animal Biotelemetry.

So far, we’ve learned a fair amount about penguin dive profile complexity and the factors that influence it. These include environmental traits like ocean bathymetry (ocean floor structure) and sea surface temperature, as well as animal-specific traits like wearing data loggers (!!) and circulating stress hormones.

By examining complexity signatures in the full suite of penguin species – there are at least 16 of them depending on who you ask! – in all the places in which they live, we aim to monitor global threats to penguins while learning more about the ecological and evolutionary forces that drive their behavior.

Follow our Blogs page for updates on this and all our projects, or subscribe to our Newsletter to receive progress summaries via email when available.


Featured Projects



Zooentropy @ Japan Monkey Centre
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Zooentropy @ Kyoto City Zoo
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Seabird Behavior in Fractal Time
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