Measuring, recording and tracking our environment and wildlife has become standardised in many ways, with widely used software.
However, in the last few years technology itself has changed the way ecological consultancy works on a day-to-day basis – from site surveys to endangered species monitoring, and here are just a few advances that are exciting ecologists around the world.
- Bat detectors
Advances in technology with bat detectors has seen them getting more accurate, collecting greater information, having better battery life and additional functionality such as ambient temperature readings and charging via solar panels. Auto-identification software has also been developed to help the long-suffering ecologist doing countless hours of analysis from automated detectors.
2. Dogs in conservation
Using dogs in conservation is an innovative and pioneering way to locate live or dead animals, their droppings or other field signs quickly and easily. In the UK detection dogs are used to find protected species including bats, great crested newts and water voles.
Environmental DNA – the collection of samples containing DNA from water, soil or the air – is a non-invasive way of proving the existence of a species by extracting relevant DNA particles. This technology is helpful in identifying the presence of great crested newts in a body of water – the DNA breaks down in the aquatic environment over time, so the presence of shed skin or faeces can be used to focus survey effort.
4. Autonomous Vehicles
Drones and other unmanned vehicles are changing the way we can gather data. Drones can measure the environment, monitor change over time, and observe species from the air.
Drone-based mapping is rapid, accurate and resolute, and ideal for mapping large or inaccessible areas. We can also add various sensors to these, to collect different types of data..
5. Thermal imaging
Thermal imaging cameras enable the surveyor to observe bat and bird activity in complete darkness, without any disturbance to natural behaviours. Doing so enables the quick and accurate collection of data, improving the design and implementation of mitigation and enhancement measures.
Beyond the obvious cameras, thermal imaging can be useful to track wildlife species at night or under the dense scrub of a woodland by attaching to drones.
LiDAR (aka light detection and ranging) is a survey method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with laser light and measuring the reflected light with a sensor, creating digital 3D representations of the target. It has terrestrial, airborne, and mobile applications, enabling large scale habitat and landscape studies.
7. Bonus – Future Tech
Imagine, if you can, a future of ecological surveying where low-power computers are working together with autonomous vehicles to take coordinated measurements and communicate data to each other – without human input.
This monitoring station will use Bio-Batteries – plugged in to trees – transferring natural sources of chemical energy into electrical power, and Kinetic Batteries for tracking sensors on animals. The Internet of Things will be utilised to transfer instructions and data to and from each monitoring device, and the whole process can run, entirely unmanned, for any number of years.
We are on the cusp of an eco-technical revolution, and it has never been more exciting to work in ecology.