The complexity of the net of life


Image of Cecilia Nilsson, a woman with blonde hair wearing a brown jacket with a fur collar.
Cecilia Nilsson

This put up was written by Cecilia Nilsson, a biologist at the moment based mostly and dealing as a researcher on the Department of Biology at Lund University. Her work focuses on utilizing completely different sorts of radars and information science to watch animal actions at scale, with a deal with migration methods and hen inhabitants conservation. She additionally makes use of these analysis strategies to research conflicts that come up when people encroach on aerial habitats, equivalent to wind energy installations and hen strikes at airports.

Join us on October 26, 2023 to listen to Cecilia Nilsson current on Cisco Networking Academy’s Women Rock-IT program, and to find out how analyzing climate radar information and using machine studying for organic functions is saving the lives of birds.

The Women Rock-IT Program addresses the gender hole in STEM-related topics. Established in 2014, this system has reached an viewers of over 2 million individuals, that includes 156 feminine audio system, 91 dwell TV broadcasts and 78 blogs. As a end result, greater than 974,000 individuals have enrolled in expertise programs.

The lack of biodiversity is likely one of the biggest threats going through humanity. By destroying habitats and threatening the survival of species, we’re pulling out threads from the net of life that sustains us, and provides us with meals, oxygen, and clear water. By weakening it we’re additionally decreasing nature’s resilience to long-term adjustments and excessive occasions – with much less genetic variation and fewer particular person organisms, ecosystems turn out to be extra susceptible to threats equivalent to droughts, flooding and illness.

A brand new method to conservation

The complexity of the net of life round us, with all its variation, fascinated me from a younger age and made the selection of finding out biology an apparent one. However, whereas finding out at college I quickly realized that I used to be extra drawn to technical strategies and theoretical facets within the area of biology, and I strayed removed from sensible conservation purposes. As a PhD scholar in Lund, Sweden, I used monitoring radar to check the main points of hen flight. Using a discarded army monitoring radar, we may monitor the motion of free-flying birds within the sky with very excessive precision, registering each wing beat. We used this information to check evolutionary predictions of hen actions and hen flight. I beloved studying about radar expertise and delving into the main points of hen flight–however I used to be bothered by the sensation of documenting one thing we have been slowly shedding.

“I wanted to contribute, to learn more and to protect it.”

After ending my PhD, I stayed within the educational world and began working as a put up doc, and later a college researcher, targeted on using climate radar networks for organic purposes. The extra I discovered about climate radars, the extra I may see their potential as a conservation software. Weather radars continually monitor the sky, registering every thing, not solely climate, but additionally birds and bugs. This had been identified for a very long time, however the complexities of extracting from the massive datasets climate radars produce had restricted its use in biology.

Advancements in expertise unlocked alternatives

About 10 years in the past, laptop processing energy and storage had superior to the purpose that large-scale use of climate radar information for biology began to be potential. Since then, I’ve been working within the small–however quickly increasing–educational area of analyzing climate radar information for organic functions. Weather radars emit radio waves (normally in C or S-band) after which hear for the echo of objects within the sky reflecting the wave again to the radar antenna.

Radar antenna
A monitoring radar antenna, picture courtesy of Johan Bjorkman

All objects within the sky return echoes, from tiny raindrops to massive plane. Weather radars are primarily constructed for detecting rain droplets, that are used to map and monitor precipitation methods. But by specializing in particular traits of the returned echo, in addition to info on the motion of the item creating the echo, we are able to separate out organic objects equivalent to birds, bugs, and bats from different information. Machine studying classification algorithms have allowed us to fine-tune this segmentation and analyze massive datasets.

Weather radar information presents a number of benefits for biodiversity monitoring which might be very tough to acquire by different means. First of all, they monitor a habitat that we all know little about and have few different methods of mapping: the aerial habitat. Many flying animals spend massive elements of their life within the air, making it an important a part of their habitat. Secondly, climate radar information supplies one thing that may be very uncommon within the area of conservation biology: very long time collection of kind of standardized information. By utilizing very long time collection of archived information we are able to establish adjustments within the quantity and motion patterns of flying animals, and by utilizing networks of stations we are able to do that throughout massive scales, figuring out areas with lowering populations.

Applying new strategies to guard wildlife and their habitats

Some of the sensible purposes we now have developed are predictive fashions that may present when massive numbers of birds are on the transfer throughout migration. This is at the moment getting used to arrange completely different computerized warning methods to restrict risks for migratory birds and people alike. For instance, turning off lights on excessive rise buildings to keep away from hen crashes, and pausing wind generators in migration corridors to keep away from hen collisions with rotor blades. Another utility alert in growth warns poultry farmers when massive numbers of untamed birds are flying over their farms, permitting them to take motion to guard their livestock towards avian influenza and different pathogens the birds could carry. I’ve additionally been concerned in utilizing large-scale info from climate radars to map hen actions round airports, rising information of how hen migration patterns have an effect on the danger of hen strikes between airplanes and birds.

A woman sits in a darkened room in front of computer and radar terminals
Cecilia at work.

I really feel very fortunate to have been part of establishing using climate radar information as a biodiversity monitoring software over the past decade, and I imagine this system has large potential for the long run. I’m comfortable that I now contribute to the monitoring of a minimum of one small a part of the varied net of life, and I’ll proceed exploring the methods we are able to use this software to evaluate and deal with threats to biodiversity and the pure world round us.


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