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Big data, satellites aid in conservation of nature

Cao Chen
Updated: Apr 13,2018 9:21 AM     China Daily

Conservationists are turning to high-tech tools and big data for wildlife monitoring and management in China.

“The past 10 years have seen wildlife data accumulate rapidly,” Li Binbin, assistant professor of environmental science at Duke Kunshan University, said at the Workshop of Intelligent Technology and Big Data in Nature Conservation, which was held earlier this week in Shanghai.

For example, in the field monitoring and protection of giant pandas, Amur tigers, cheetahs and black rhinos, “classification of these species at the individual, sex, age-class and species levels can be done through footprint identification,” said Li.

“It is a noninvasive method that’s more accurate than measuring bite size and more cost effective than the fecal DNA method-two traditional identification approaches for pandas,” she said.

“The database gradually grows, and the model can identify the new individual more accurately,” said Li. “It will help to preserve biodiversity and implement effective conservation strategies.”

The accuracy rate for identifying individual giant pandas is as high as 91 percent, Li said.

Such high-tech tools and big data are also used for monitoring other species.

“When identifying bird species based on audio recordings of sounds, it often happens that multiple birds sing together against a noisy background, resulting in poor data quality,” said Li Ming, associate professor of the big data research center at Duke Kunshan University.

“This problem can be solved through audio processing by the specific high-tech tools we are developing, where the signals of different birds have different temporal frequency ranges.”

An audio recorder based on a microphone array with specific directionality is also being researched, Li said.

“These will help determine how birds migrate, their specific locations, as well as provide sources for the authorities to improve wildlife habitats.”

Other intelligent technology, such as remote sensing, geographic information systems and global navigation satellite systems can also be used for real-time monitoring of natural and human threats, such as forest fires, according to Liu Jingnan, principal of the university and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Drone applications in the wild are also accessible to combat poaching and illegal logging, and for counting wildlife, said Tian Yi, product operations manager of Da-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology, a leading Chinese company in the civilian drone and aerial imaging technology industry.

“Our recent study found that the current list of protected species and relevant research fails to cover all endangered species,” said Wang Hao, lecturer at Peking University’s School of Life Sciences.

For example, 51 percent of mammalian species have not been included in research papers.

“However, it is surprising that 97 percent of the distribution data on birds, one of the species with a large amount of information, is provided by the public,” Wang said.

“Nature lovers, grassroots researchers and local residents are the best information contributors, yet the data they collect needs further professional analysis,” he said. “It means professionals involved in data collection and research of wildlife should further cooperate with the public.”

Zhang Junjie, director of the Environmental Research Center at Duke Kunshan, also called for the cultivation of interdisciplinary talent in natural sciences and data analysis to improve nature protection.

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