We are in a technological age where, in many domains and businesses, data is being collected at unprecedented speed and volume. This has ushered in the era of big data, cloud computing and the need for every organization to integrate analytics into their core business processes.
For those of us working in the conservation field, our ability to utilize these new technologies can help us address previously ‘unanswerable’ questions regarding the health of our environment. In many cases, we can now measure what was once immeasurable. For example, we now have the capacity to provide insights into the status and trends of wildlife populations in remote protected areas and private lands around the world. We can do this by using sensors to collect vast amounts of data, cloud technologies to deploy customized software when needed by land management agencies, and employing cutting-edge analytics to give us a data-driven picture of what is really happening to wildlife.
Two initiatives, the TEAM Network and Wildlife Insights, and an important indicator called the Wildlife Picture Index, are providing these technologies to the organizations and individuals responsible for managing and monitoring terrestrial wildlife around the world.
Collecting Data: The TEAM Network
The Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM) is the first and largest global monitoring network using camera traps to monitor birds and mammals in tropical forests. TEAM Network implements the largest global camera trap network in tropical forests (17 sites, 14 countries and approximately 1000 camera traps deployed over 2000km 2 that are monitored annually). TEAM network scientists have collected over 2.6 million images and this data is open access, available to the public in real time.
Introducing the TEAM Network, from Benjamin Drummond and Sara Steele. TEAM's mission is to generate real time data for monitoring long-term trends in tropical biodiversity through a global network of field stations, providing an early warning system on the status of biodiversity to effectively guide conservation action.
'Global problems need global solutions, and global level measurements. We have to break the mould of studying little things in little places for just a little time to be able to have an effect in the world' - Dr Jorge Ahumada, Executive Director TEAM Network.
The TEAM Network provides a suite of tools to facilitate the collection, management, storage, and sharing of data from camera traps and other survey efforts. These tools work both offline, on local laptops and desktops, as well as online. The offline tools can synchronize with cloud-based repositories that will enable data from around the world to be viewed, shred and analyzed collectively. The cloud-based repositories provide additional data visualization and analytical tools. These technologies enable the TEAM Network to offer standardized wildlife monitoring solutions applicable to an individual protected area or many protected areas at the sub-national, national and regional levels.
TEAM Network researchers work at 16 sites, across 14 countries and have deployed approximately 1000 camera traps over 2000km2 that are monitored annually.
Photo Credit: Benjamin Drummond, BDSJS
Aggregating Data: Wildlife Insights
Camera trap sampling has exploded during the first decade of the 21st century. Many projects are designed to study one or a few species, but the camera traps sample the entire terrestrial and semi-terrestrial bird and mammal community. This common study design has led to a situation where most of the data on non-target species (by-catch) are never analyzed or published. TEAM Network recognised that in addition to their own huge respository of images, there were countless other orgnaisations and individuals collecting and using camera trap data, yet there was no unifying way to share or access those data with the broader community. Seeing this gap, the TEAM Network, along with core partners Conservation International, the Smithsonian Institution, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Wildlife Conservation Society developed Wildlife Insights.
An elephant and calf, captured by WCS in Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo.
Courtesy of the TEAM Network.
WildIife Insights provides tools for the camera trap user community to manage, view and analyze camera trap data and images. It serves both as as repository and data management tool for camera trap data as well as has the ability to link to other online camera trap databases (such as the Smithsonian Emammal website) and enourages collaboration with other institutions and individuals. WildIife Insights recognizes the power of camera trap sampling to collect data on the distribution and abundance of a broad range of terrestrial and semi-terrestrial birds and mammals, often beyond the goals and objectives of a single research project.
WildIife Insights was created to serve as an archive for datasets of camera trap images and metadata (published or unpublished) that may be used by researchers and conservationists interested in broad questions about the conservation of wildlife and wildlife communities. Participants post their data under a range of levels of access, make it available to the camera trap community and the general public. In return, participants receive the security of knowing that their camera trap data are properly archived, protected from loss, and available for global studies. In addition, WildIife Insights uses a cloud-based system that will allow users to share, access, and analyze millions of camera trap images and related data including a variety of other environmental and climate data sources. WildIife Insights believes that conservation does not happen in a vacuum and by making data available from all regions of the world, practitioners will have the information needed to assist policy and management decisions. For more information on Wildlife Insights and how to share data visit here.
Western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) from TEAM's site in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo.
Courtesy of the TEAM Network
Analysing big data: The Wildlife Picture Index
The TEAM Network and WildIife Insights provide tools that range from simple data summaries to more complex analytics that utilize camera trap data as well as other complementary datasets. A great example of one of the more sophisticated analytic indicators is the Wildlife Picture Index.
The Wildlife Picture Index (WPI) was developed jointly by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London as an indicator derived from primary camera trap data (O'Brien et al 2010). The WPI was designed to meet the requirements of biodiversity monitoring indexes as described by Buckland et al. (2005), and it monitors ground-dwelling tropical medium and large mammals and birds, species that are important economically, aesthetically and ecologically. An increase/decrease in the WPI indicates a positive/negative trend in biodiversity (when aggregated across all species) or other component of diversity (when looking at a subgroup of species). TEAM Network uses this indicator as a way to synthesize and understand the effects of climate change and land use change on tropical terrestrial mammal and bird diversity.
The system to generate the WPI, was co-developed by Conservation International, the TEAM Network and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, to harnesses the power of cutting-edge technologies to make Big Data applicable to real world problems. It speeds up TEAM Network data collection, management and analysis efforts, and its unique interface allows users to create custom WildIife Picture Index data sets. The WildIife Picture Index can be aggregated upward from the local site to the global level, and it can be disaggregated to capture trends at regional levels, functional groups of interest, or national level (if adequate national data are available). At all these levels, data can be disaggregated for particular taxonomic and functional groups of species, species with different conservation status, or facing particular threats. For example, the WildIife Picture Index can be calculated for species with different IUCN conservation status categories (EN, CR, LC, etc), CITES levels of threat, and functional groups. The WildIife Picture Index can also be calculated separately for mammals and birds, and incorporates the effects of climate, land use and anthropogenic disturbance on species trends. For more information about the technical approach underpinning the WPI, visit The WPI Site for the TEAM Network. The system can be expanded to work with any individual protected area or networks of protected areas around the world.
HPE Earth Insights is an innovative collaboration that applies HPE's technology and expertise to the research being conducted by Conservation International, a leading non-governmental organization dedicated to protecting nature for people and ensuring a healthy and productive planet for local and global communities.
As initiatives like the TEAM Network and Wildlife Insights demonstrate, there are exciting opportunities for data-driven decision making in biodiversity management. Conservation needs to step up to the plate with modern technological solutions that can enable decision makers and conservation practitioners to make smart, data-driven decisions and ensure our wildlife has a real chance in the future.
About the Author
Eric Fegraus brings deep expertise in applying novel technological solutions to our most pressing environmental and conservation challenges. Eric has many technological interests including natural resource sensors, IT frameworks, and analytical databases and tools. He also has a strong interest in leveraging private sector technology partnerships to strengthen conservation programs.
Header Image Information:
Central Suriname Nature Reserve, Suriname. Panthera Onca (Jaguar), a near threatened species. Of the sites researched, this one presented the highest number of species diversity (28). Courtesy of Conservation International, a member of the TEAM network - www.teamnetwork.org