Modern nature conservation science operates at the frontier of technology. Innovative technology can enhance biodiversity conservation. Tags, sensors, camera traps, DNA sequencing, big data, new materials, high speed cameras, drones, facial recognition technology, bioacoustics, synthetic biology and AI are the new hand lenses and tweezers, enabling more effective biodiversity conservation.
The theme of the WUR Dies Natalis on March 11 is Innovation for conservation: Pushing technological frontiers.
During the Dies celebration bioscientist and marine ecologist professor Rory Wilson from Swansea University, UK, will discuss his work on nature conservation and the use of cutting edge technologies and approaches for conservation. In addition, three young Wageningen scientists will elaborate on their innovative work in relation to nature conservation.
WUR uses different innovative nature conservation techniques for better understanding nature, monitoring nature and take actions to conserve nature.
Measuring, understanding and using nature
WUR uses new technologies to develop biodiversity-friendly practices that work with natural processes rather than against them. Such building-with-nature concepts are employed in infrastructure development, such as artificial coral reefs.
Wageningen researchers use remote sensing and artificial intelligence to capture a digital reality ('a digital twin') of ecosystems or individual trees. Such 3D models can be used for calculations (e.g. the carbon content of a tree) and for understanding processes (e.g. the sand volume trapped by dune vegetation along the coast).
An e-DNA analysis uses traces of DNA in a water sample to obtain information about the prevalence and quantity of species. Virtual reality technologies can be used to reduce tourism pressure on protected areas. Real-time cameras can reduce nest disturbance by bird watchers. Synthetic biology technologies can produce nature or nature-based chemicals in the lab to replace harvesting from nature. High-speed cameras have revealed the flying behaviour of birds and insects which, for instance, helps us (together with Delft University of Technology) to construct better drones.
Monitoring is a basic technique to measure trends in the prevalence and movements of species, which is crucial for assessing the effectiveness of conservation. Camera traps, GPS, tags on animals, new sensors, facial recognition and bioacoustics all help us to better monitor nature. Such technologies, together with their real-time data streaming and advanced computer-based analytical tools, enable the early detection of threats to nature. A GIS keeps track of global deforestation, and advanced camera and sensor systems can trace illegal activities in protected areas.
Engaging citizens in nature conservation
New technologies offer a wide range of possibilities for engaging citizens in nature conservation and thus increasing public support for conservation. Camera traps, mobile phones, facial recognition tools, and interactive websites and apps have significantly enhanced citizen science for nature conservation.