FIU partners with Zoo Miami in animal research and lecture series

The School of Environment, Arts and Society is partnering with Zoo Miami in its new lecture series. Kristen Bishop will speak in the series’ first lecture on her research of animal movement. Photo by Chris Miller (Sideonecincy), courtesy of Creative Commons.

Danny Rodriguez//Contributing Writer

Panther country will be working with some new cats at Zoo Miami this summer as Kristen Bishop, an assistant professor of biological sciences, will begin research on animal movement and speak in a new lecture series called Zoo FIU.

Bishop will be discussing the locomotion mechanics of canines and  felines in a discussion called “The Cost of Stealth: Mechanics of Walking in Dogs and Cats.”

Bishop’s research will offer a new perspective on animal movement, whose focus has been to analyze the evolutionary patterns in the locomotion of animals that walk differently. If her research proves successful, the current model for animal movement as seen by biologists will be redefined.

She hopes to shed new light on the matter by comparing the energy saving mechanism in canines that tend to specialize in steady long distance movement versus felines that take a more crouched stalker approach to motion.

The current model for animal movement is viewed as an upside down pendulum.

“The center of mass of an animal’s movement moves up and down and exchanges potential energy for kinetic energy at the highest point as it pass forward from the legs and is recycled again for the next step,” said Bishop.

According to Bishop, animals that use this mechanism very effectively can recover about 70 percent of the energy that it takes to accelerate the center of mass, but small cats do not use this energy exchange mechanism nearly as effectively and only recover about 20 – 30 percent.

Bishop will be compiling data from the array of felines and canines that live at the zoo along with information gathered at her lab from their more domestic counterparts.

“What I expect to find is that the walking mechanics between canines and felines are not size dependent and are reflective of their evolutionary history and their specific adaptations to their hunting styles,” said Bishop.

Bishop has been with the university for three years teaching comparative vertebrate anatomy and general biology. Next spring she will also teach a comparative biomechanics course.

Elaine Pritzker, the  coordinator of the School of Environment, Arts and Society, said Bishop’s research is the first in this series of lectures that SEAS is embarking with Zoo Miami.

Pritzker hopes that lectures will help spur research and community engagement
attracting the public to the Zoo to see the exhibits and become exposed to the research that the professors are engaged in.

“It’s not your traditional academic lecture, the speakers are there to discuss their research and they want to hear questions so its a great opportunity to directly hear from the researchers,” said Pritzker.

The event will also focus on an effort between Zoo Miami and the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Center in South Africa to develop better practices in protecting and raising highly endangered cats in captivity while supporting other conservation programs in South Africa.

The lecture is scheduled for May 17 at 7 p.m. at Zoo Miami.