Breakthrough tech collaboration enables rainforest biodiversity to be monitored remotely

Published: 31st May 2023

A breakthrough collaboration of five leading organisations is set to transform rainforest biodiversity monitoring, allowing for remote measurement and monitoring without entering the field. By bringing together cutting-edge technologies and knowledge, this collaboration promises to create a data-driven, objective understanding of complex ecosystems and transform the way we protect and restore essential natural systems. NatureMetrics and Space4Good are an important part of the wider initiative and their pioneering eDNA and remote sensing technology promises to make remote yet comprehensive biodiversity monitoring a reality.

The consortium, named RE-FOREST-ER, are competing for the prestigious $10 million XPRIZE Rainforest and their innovative proposition has progressed to the semi-finals. The team includes Space4Good, a geospatial analytics enterprise monitoring complex ecosystems using remote sensing technologies, as well as leading the project management for the consortium; the Masarang Foundation, pioneers of restorative rainforest practices in Indonesia; Arsari Enviro Industri, a leading sustainable climate solutions developer in Southeast Asia; Liverpool John Moores University’s School of Biological and Environmental Sciences; and NatureMetrics, who have established the largest commercial eDNA facilities globally and are now providing the project with capability to capture eDNA-based biodiversity measurements.

NatureMetrics’ eDNA technology combined with robotics eDNA sampling solutions enable the RE-FOREST-ER team to measure biodiversity remotely without the need for people on the ground due to the ease of sample collection and the vast data that it generates, painting a comprehensive picture of life in the rainforest. “eDNA analysis allows us to identify a wide range of species using a sample of environmental DNA,” said Dr Malu Avila, Bid Manager at NatureMetrics. “This technology can revolutionise the way that biodiversity surveys are carried out in many habitats, including rainforests.”

Space4Good is working on an innovative approach to classify rainforest tree species using remotely sensed data and artificial intelligence. The Space4Good team has made significant progress in creating algorithms that effectively gather, process, and analyze drone data from various sources, including LiDAR, multispectral, and thermal data. Space4Good integrates their data findings with valuable insights from local expertise, generating comprehensive descriptive information from which they extract explanatory variables and trace back to individual trees.

The RE-FOREST-ER consortium’s platform will combine remote sensing, cloud-based geographic information systems, AI algorithms, and eDNA analysis to create a comprehensive and objective, data-driven understanding of the complex ecosystem of rainforests. The goal is to provide decision-makers, field teams, and local communities with the tools they need to ensure and improve efficient, resilient, and sustainable forest and agroforestry design and operation.

With the help of data-driven technologies, “We aim to qualify and quantify natural complexity, and leverage the wealth of natural knowledge held within Earth’s forests” said the RE-FOREST-ER team in a joint statement. “These insights can then help to create more efficient, resilient and sustainable conservation, forestry and agroforestry practises and unlock new ecosystem services.”

The RE-FOREST-ER consortium is set to provide a new approach to measuring and managing biodiversity that could revolutionise the scalability with which biodiversity surveys can be carried out encompassing many habitats, including rainforests. By combining remote sensing, cloud-based geographic information systems, AI algorithms, and eDNA analysis, the consortium is working towards a more sustainable future for the planet.

Note: eDNA sampling by RE-FOREST-ER has been made possible thanks to Outreach Robotics pioneer drone-deployed eDNA sampling technologies; Sampling and multispectral analysis by drones has been made possible thanks to drone support from Halo Robotics.

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