Technology is undoubtedly contributing to the loss of biodiversity and the deterioration of ecosystems in the world.
Once a forest, artificial lighting now illuminates the vast urban jungle. Where animals used to roam, huge factories are now mass-producing microchips, computers and cars. But now, technology can also be used to restore valuable ecosystems.
Here are two new research papers published today. They show how drones and genomics, the same technique used to identify COVID strains, can help protect and restore nature.
One paper shows that drones help protect biodiversity and monitor ecosystem recovery activities. It also helps to understand how impacts on one ecosystem affect another.
Genomics can help identify populations that may be vulnerable to future climate change and monitor elusive animals such as platypus, lynxes, and newts. Still, our other papers have found that ecologists without genomics expertise still think that technology needs to be tried and tested.
Remote sensing by drone
Drones are becoming more and more common, for example in city parks and weddings. Farmers also use them to assess the health of their crops, and engineers use them to detect damage to bridges and wind turbines.
Drone technology has made rapid progress over the last decade. Advances include obstacle avoidance, extended flight times, high resolution cameras, and the ability to carry heavier payloads.
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But can drones help repair damaged ecosystems? We reviewed the scientific literature of various environmental sectors to investigate existing and new uses of drones in the restoration of degraded ecosystems. The answer we found is a clear “yes”.
Drones have been found to be useful for vegetation mapping and collection of water, soil and grassland samples. You can also monitor plant health and wildlife demographics. This is essential to understand if the restore intervention is working.
In Australia, for example, drones helped researchers identify marsupial habitat requirements. For example, the tiger quoll and the quoll. The visibility of drone birds gives researchers and practitioners a deeper understanding of new approaches to restoring vegetation and monitoring the recovery of critical habitats.
Famously, drones have recently been used to drop and plant “seed bombs” to help restore forests. There is potential for drone planting, but the survival rate of seedlings is currently low and further research is needed.
Some researchers have developed drones that fight wildfires to protect sensitive ecosystems. This is where one drone uses thermal technology to detect a fire and another drone drops a fire extinguishing ball to extinguish the fire. However, controlled wildfires can be essential to the recovery of ecosystems, so drones can also be used to drop small fireballs.
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However, there are many pitfalls to consider when using a drone. Drones can be annoying to malicious people and can harm wildlife.
Studies show that getting too close to animals such as birds and bears can affect your physiology. For example, according to a 2015 study, a drone flying too close to an American black bear increased heart rate in a single hibernating bear.
Drone pilots must obtain appropriate licenses and follow strict protocols when flying in sensitive habitats.
Genomics: Worth but misunderstood
Genomics is a toolkit full of innovative ways to see DNA, the blueprint for life on Earth. When scientists talk about genomics, they usually refer to modern DNA sequencing techniques or the analysis of vast DNA collections.
However, despite the potential for improving ecosystem recovery, our recent research shows that recovery scholars with no experience with genomics are concerned about the hype of genomics. Was shown.
Interviews with key experts in various ecology disciplines have shown that many are seeking case studies to demonstrate the benefits of genomics in recovery.
Surprisingly, however, it was found that the restoration genomics literature contains more than 70 restoration genomics studies, many of which use environmental DNA to monitor ecosystem health. Therefore, many case studies already exist.
The two most common genomics applications in ecosystem recovery are population genomics and environmental DNA.
Population genomics studies small differences in the genome of an organism and answers questions such as the amount of genetic variation present in the population, the relationships between related individuals, and how landscapes change migration patterns.
Linking DNA sequence changes to historic climate is central to modern nature maintenance and restoration. This will give you an idea of how resilient animals, plants and microbes are to future climates.
For example, using this approach, red iron bark (Eucalyptus Tricalpa), For forest restoration and planting in southeastern Australia. By using genomics to select the most elastic seeds, trees are most likely to survive in changing climates.
Read more: Revealed the genetic secrets of waratah to preserve this Australian icon in the future
Scientists can also gain insights into ecosystems and use DNA organisms left in the environment, such as soil and water, to monitor elusive species.
This environmental DNA data helps track the presence of invading, endangered, or mysterious species and measures the health and diversity of the community. This includes pollen maters such as bees, other flora and fauna, and invisible friends of microorganisms.
For example, in the United Kingdom, ecologists are now using environmental DNA to detect the presence of vulnerable amphibians such as the Northern Crested Newt.
Where are you from here?
The greater uptake of remote sensing and genomics in restoration has obvious potential to help improve the tremendous task of restoring degraded ecosystems. Our paper outlines how restoration ecologists integrate drones and genomics into toolboxes.
Given that humans are causing substantial degradation of global ecosystems, it makes sense to use currently available techniques to restore wildlife and prevent further biodiversity loss. increase.