Artificial Intelligence critical in supporting biodiversity

Biodiversity is critical to the ongoing health of humanity and the planet. Living in a delicate balance with nature, it is critical that we manage the balance to avoid catastrophic disruption. AI is an essential tool in supporting biodiversity.

Note: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and/or interview subject and do not represent positions of IEEE.

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In December 2022, at the UN’s COP151 Biodiversity Conference, nations from around the world came together to agree on a new set of goals to guide global action through 2030 to halt and reverse nature loss. Adoption of the biodiversity framework is critical to addressing the key drivers to nature loss, as well as the collective goal of achieving climate-change targets. 

Dr. Karen Panetta2, IEEE Fellow and Dean of the Graduate School of Engineering at Tufts University (Boston, MA, USA), knows about biodiversity. She manages to intersect her expertise in AI with her passion for addressing biodiversity concerns and shares those insights with her IEEE Professional Home3 community. Using AI technology, “we can have a much better view on the quality of health of the underwater world as well as what is happening on land,” she says. One example is around food accessibility following a flood or earthquake. Panetta states that “we are very good at evaluating, assessing, and helping to monitor the situation, and using AI to learn about the environment, not just while the weather changed, but looking at the population. With AI, we can look at multiple factors, whereas previously that might have been too cumbersome to accomplish.”

Dr. Panetta applied this thinking to a multi-disciplinary project called Jumbos for Jumbos: Tufts Elephant Conservation Alliance4. Using remote imaging and AI, the group is aiding conservation efforts, species protection, and the health of the elephant population in Kenya5. Technology has enabled researchers, as well as park rangers on the ground, to better monitor the elephant population without deploying manual interventions, which are often stressful to the elephant and dangerous to the teams deploying them. The results have the added benefit of protecting the elephants from poachers who are now aware of tracking drones watching over the herds. The advances in this application of image analysis and AI have also been deployed to track many other animal species for a variety of reasons, such as deer and chimpanzee populations.

AI is an essential tool in supporting biodiversity aspects of not only animals but also plants and populations. Image-sensing technology has been deployed to aid in differentiating viral pneumonia from COVID-19, for example, with more than 500 results on this topic alone available in the IEEE Xplore® digital library.

The November 2022 special issue on sustainability of the IEEE Latin America Transactions is devoted to all aspects of AI being deployed for the benefit of sustainability and biodiversity. From optimizing the location of scooter-sharing stations to better predictions of shipping-container timings to non-invasive methods for tracking songbirds in Brazil, AI plays an increasing role to ensure an ongoing balance between humans and their surroundings. As noted by the guest editors, “the content in this special issue offers a vision of a future where technology is put to work for responsible and well-considered change.”

“These are all examples of why it is critically important to be able to look at the interconnections between systems,” says Panetta. “Engineers creatively deploying techniques like AI in sustainability aspects are critical in our ability to reach our collective climate targets.”

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[1] Environment, U. (2022). UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15). [online] UNEP – UN Environment Programme. Available at: https://www.unep.org/un-biodiversity-conference-cop-15.
[2] Karen Panetta. (n.d.). Karen Panetta. [online] Available at: https://www.karenpanetta.com/#about-overview
[3] www.ieee.org. (n.d.). Your Professional Home. [online] Available at: https://www.ieee.org/your-professional-home/index.html
[4] Anon, (n.d.). Tufts Elephant Conservation Alliance. [online] Available at: https://sites.tufts.edu/teca/
[5] Turvill, C. (2022). Electrical Engineer Uses Imaging and AI Algorithms to Aid Elephant Conservation Efforts. [online] EE Power. Available at: https://eepower.com/market-insights/electrical-engineer-uses-imaging-and-ai-algorithms-to-aid-elephant-conservation-efforts/#