BEMOVI, software for extracting behavior and morphology from videos, illustrated with analyses of microbes


Microbes are critical components of ecosystems and provide vital services (e.g., photosynthesis, decomposition, nutrient recycling). From the diverse roles microbes play in natural ecosystems, high levels of functional diversity result. Quantifying this diversity is challenging, because it is weakly associated with morphological differentiation. In addition, the small size of microbes hinders morphological and behavioral measurements at the individual level, as well as interactions between individuals. Advances in microbial community genetics and genomics, flow cytometry and digital analysis of still images are promising approaches. They miss out, however, on a very important aspect of populations and communities: the behavior of individuals. Video analysis complements these methods by providing in addition to abundance and trait measurements, detailed behavioral information, capturing dynamic processes such as movement, and hence has the potential to describe the interactions between individuals. We introduce BEMOVI, a package using the R and ImageJ software, to extract abundance, morphology, and movement data for tens to thousands of individuals in a video. Through a set of functions BEMOVI identifies individuals present in a video, reconstructs their movement trajectories through space and time, and merges this information into a single database. BEMOVI is a modular set of functions, which can be customized to allow for peculiarities of the videos to be analyzed, in terms of organisms features (e.g., morphology or movement) and how they can be distinguished from the background. We illustrate the validity and accuracy of the method with an example on experimental multispecies communities of aquatic protists. We show high correspondence between manual and automatic counts and illustrate how simultaneous time series of abundance, morphology, and behavior are obtained from BEMOVI. We further demonstrate how the trait data can be used with machine learning to automatically classify individuals into species and that information on movement behavior improves the predictive ability.

Ecology and Evolution, (5), 13, pp. 2584–2595,
Frank Pennekamp
Postdoctoral researcher in ecology