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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Science Policy

An Automated Image Analysis System to Measure and Count Organisms in Laboratory Microcosms
Published: Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Author: François Mallard et al.

by François Mallard, Vincent Le Bourlot, Thomas Tully

1. Because of recent technological improvements in the way computer and digital camera perform, the potential use of imaging for contributing to the study of communities, populations or individuals in laboratory microcosms has risen enormously. However its limited use is due to difficulties in the automation of image analysis. 2. We present an accurate and flexible method of image analysis for detecting, counting and measuring moving particles on a fixed but heterogeneous substrate. This method has been specifically designed to follow individuals, or entire populations, in experimental laboratory microcosms. It can be used in other applications. 3. The method consists in comparing multiple pictures of the same experimental microcosm in order to generate an image of the fixed background. This background is then used to extract, measure and count the moving organisms, leaving out the fixed background and the motionless or dead individuals. 4. We provide different examples (springtails, ants, nematodes, daphnia) to show that this non intrusive method is efficient at detecting organisms under a wide variety of conditions even on faintly contrasted and heterogeneous substrates. 5. The repeatability and reliability of this method has been assessed using experimental populations of the Collembola Folsomia candida. 6. We present an ImageJ plugin to automate the analysis of digital pictures of laboratory microcosms. The plugin automates the successive steps of the analysis and recursively analyses multiple sets of images, rapidly producing measurements from a large number of replicated microcosms.
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