How can technology help conserve biodiversity?

Posted by Global technology interface on May 04, 2022

Biological diversity is the infrastructure that supports life on our planet: the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink are only possible as long as we have healthy biodiversity-rich species and ecosystem diversity. The latest data shows that we are on the brink of crossing ecological boundaries and reaching tipping points in climate and ecosystems that might accelerate planetary destabilisation. Even though we represent just 0.01% of all life on the planet, our impact on our ecosystems has caused the loss of half of the world’s plants and 83% of all wild mammals. 


The need for urgent action to protect biodiversity – to shift to new, sustainable ways of production and consumption and reorient economic development pathways towards an “economy within ecological boundaries” - has been gaining global recognition. At the same time, technological advancements are evolving at incredible speed and scale. A lack of robust biodiversity data often constrains evidence-based decision-making in natural resource management and conservation. Technology offers opportunities for enhanced data collection through a range of satellite-based and Earth-based sensors and techniques.

1. Technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution include tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, advancements in quantum computing, encoding data into DNA, virtual reality, biotechnology, and new materials. When it comes to biodiversity, there are areas – such as land use, including for food production, conservation, restoration, governance, communications, and community engagement – where these new technologies could help.


2. New technologies could provide valuable support to conservation. Hyperspectral imagery of landscapes & remote sensing could help conservation biologists maintain healthy habitats and protect the life they harbour while offering the possibility of rapid alert systems for failing food webs or trophic systems and excessive human interference.


3. Satellite tracking technology is an effective tool for analysing and visualising data on species with inaccessible environments to identify areas where conservation practices are needed. New technologies are increasingly improving research on migration, human-wildlife conflict, relocation and reintroduction of species, and predator-prey interactions.


4. Technologies to identify individual animals, follow their movements, identify and locate animal and plant species, and assess their habitats' status remotely have become better, faster, and cheaper as threats to the survival of species are increasing.


5. Technologies also have the potential to transform the way we approach ecosystem restoration. Drones are used to determine what species are needed and where and then use that data to reforest, replant, and restore. Bioremediation techniques—e.g. the use of plants and microbes to extract metal contaminants—have advanced to the extent that allows us to use natural processes to help “re-wild” damaged habitats.


6. Satellite and geo-tagged data can serve as critical mechanisms to provide a more holistic picture of nature, its pressures and trends. 


Technology can be used to restore biodiversity and destroy it, either intentional (e.g. resource extraction) or unintentional, through its unmanaged effects (e.g. some types of genetic engineering). Thus awareness and responsibility are essential when designing and utilising any type of technology. Technology is not a solution to prevent extinction. It can only be a tool with which to buy time, to preserve options for a few populations and species judged of special value. In the final analysis, it is no more important than the species it sustains, which would otherwise be lost forever, and no less.

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