From mapping the predicted sizes and species of trees to preventing poaching through predictive animal security, AI is helping the forest ecosystem thrive.
Of the vast biodiversity that exists on this earth, every one out of five species faces the risk of eradication, and the number, scientists predict, will rise to 50% if the trend remains unchanged. Targeted conservation efforts, backed by meaningful technological intervention, policy support, and citizen engagement will be the key differentiators in creating a better future for all inhabitants of the planet, including the diverse ecosystems of plants and animals.
Disruptive technologies can play a transformative role in mitigating the perils of human defilement of nature and biodiversity. Illegal acts, motivated by the greed to exploit natural resources for personal gain, such as deforestation and poaching, are the root causes for the depletion of our resources. However, experts contemplate the possibility of positive outcomes from collaboration between AI pioneers and domain experts including climate scientists, materials scientists, biologists, and engineers.
Take forest surveys, for instance. Surveying forests and studying the resultant data helps conservationists understand the effects of climate change and protect habitats. Taking forest inventories, however, is an activity which, if done manually, requires counting every tree spread across thousands of acres of forest land. Besides being labour-intensive, this process is slow, costly, and sometimes even unreliable.
But, by using AI in combination with satellite imagery, the physical labour that goes into this tedious process can be reduced tremendously, while benefits such as data precision and quality can be derived. SilviaTerra is one such company which solves the problem of inventorying forests on a national scale by creating detailed maps predicting the sizes and species of trees. Using pre-existing data available with the government, together with high-resolution satellite images, the comprehensive tree-level maps that are obtained can be used to determine the effects climate change has on sustainable land practices, support or improve species habitat, and provide a more sustainable timber harvest.
Besides the threat to the green cover of the forests, the native populations of these forests, too, are facing great dangers from unsolicited human activities. Elephant populations are dwindling across the world due to their illegal killing by ivory-seeking poachers. The ivory trade claims the lives of 20,000 elephants every year, and currently, less than 500,000 elephants remain on the earth. The AI for Earth initiative of Microsoft is leveraging the power of cloud and AI tools to save this vulnerable species. Security of the elephants can be enhanced by animal tracking as well as poacher immobilisation. Using AI, it is possible to predict poaching patterns and alert the forest rangers before the killing-crime can take place.
In addition, there are some notable efforts underway to provide comprehensive Earth observation from space. Examples include the work being done under government projects such as Copernicus, of the European Space Agency, and Earth Observing System, of NASA. There are also private companies such as Planet, Digital Globe and Orbital Insights working in this domain. The powerful insights derived from this data, with the help of Artificial Intelligence techniques, will empower researchers and activists as they work towards restoring the natural green cover of the forests and creating safe environments for the wildlife to thrive in.