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News articles on technology and conservation
Mongabay.com news articles on technology and conservation in blog format. Updated regularly.
(02/24/2014) A new online platform released by the Bruno Manser Fund reveals large-scale destruction of Sarawak's rainforests, peatlands, and traditional lands. Drawing from a variety of sources, the Sarawak Geoportal includes data on logging concessions, oil palm plantations, existing and proposed dams, historical forest cover, the extent of indigenous cultivated areas, election results, and area where there are current native customary rights (NCR) disputes.
Revolutionary Google-backed system unlocks power of 'big data' to save forests
(02/20/2014) World Resources Institute (WRI) today announced the release of a tool that promises to revolutionize forest monitoring. The platform, called Global Forest Watch and developed over several years with more than 40 partners, draws from a rich array of big data related to the word's forests and translates it into interactive maps and charts that reveal trends in deforestation, forest recovery, and industrial forestry expansion. Global Forest Watch is the first tool to monitors global forests on a monthly basis, allowing authorities and conservationists to potentially take action against deforestation as it is occurring.
Conservation groups launch new whistleblower site for wildlife and forest crimes
(02/18/2014) Welcome to Wildleaks: a new website that aims to give the global public a secure and anonymous platform to report wildlife trafficking and illegal deforestation. The illegal wildlife trade has become one of the world's largest criminal activities in recent years, decimating elephants, rhinos, tigers, primates, and thousands of lesser known species. Meanwhile, illegal logging is rampant in many parts of the world, imperiling biodiversity, undercutting locals, and robbing governments of revenue.
Tracking one of the world's last Great Indian Bustards to save the species
(02/17/2014) Bilal Habib is closely tracking the flight of a bird. Six times a day he gets its location, within a few hundred feet, through a GPS monitoring device attached to its body. One of the last members of its species, this Great Indian Bustard is part of the latest effort to save its kind from joining the ranks of other extinct birds like the dodo and the passenger pigeon.
On edge of extinction, could drones and technology save the Little Dodo?
(02/10/2014) Almost nothing is known about the little dodo, a large, archaic, pigeon-like bird found only on the islands of Samoa. Worse still, this truly bizarre bird is on the verge of extinction, following the fate of its much more famous relative, the dodo bird. Recently, conservationists estimated that fewer than 200 survived on the island and maybe far fewer; frustratingly, sightings of the bird have been almost non-existent in recent years. But conservation efforts were buoyed this December when researchers stumbled on a juvenile little dodo hanging out in a tree. Not only was this an important sighting of a nearly-extinct species, but even more so it proved the species is still successfully breeding. In other words: there is still time to save the species from extinction so long as conservationists are able to raise the funds needed.
Rainforest news review for 2013
(12/26/2013) 2013 was full of major developments in efforts to understand and protect the world's tropical rainforests. The following is a review of some of the major tropical forest-related news stories for the year. As a review, this post will not cover everything that transpired during 2013 in the world of tropical forests. Please feel free to highlight anything this post missed via the comments section at the bottom. Also please note that this review focuses only on tropical forests.
Democratizing forest monitoring on a global scale
(12/17/2013) Efforts to map and analyze deforestation and forest degradation got a boost today when Stanford University announced a new online course that provides training on how to use advance forest monitoring software. The course, which is freely available via Stanford University Online Learning, could immediately increase the capacity of environmentalists, forest managers, and researchers to track changes in forest cover.
Big data shows tropical mammals on the decline
(12/12/2013) The world's largest remote camera trap initiative—monitoring 275 species in 17 protected areas—is getting some big data assistance from Hewlett-Packard (HP). To date, the monitoring program known as the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring (TEAM) Network has taken over 1.5 million photos of animals in 14 tropical countries, but conservationists have struggled with how to quickly evaluate the flood of data.
Malaysia has the world's highest deforestation rate, reveals Google forest map
(11/15/2013) Malaysia had the world's highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2012, according to a new global forest map developed in partnership with Google. Malaysia's total forest loss during the period amounted to 14.4 percent of its year 2000 forest cover. The loss translates to 47,278 square kilometers (18,244 square miles), an area larger than the country of Denmark.
Deforestation accelerates in Indonesia, finds Google forest map
(11/14/2013) Forest loss in Indonesia has sharply risen over the past 12 years, reports a new study published in the journal Science. The study, led by Matt Hansen of University of Maryland, finds that Indonesia lost 15.8 million hectares between 2000 and 2012, ranking it fifth behind Russia, Brazil, the United States, and Canada in terms of forest loss. Some 7 million hectares of forest regrew during the period.
Powered by Google, high resolution forest map reveals massive deforestation worldwide
(11/14/2013) Researchers today released a long-awaited tool that reveals the extent of forest cover loss and gain on a global scale. Powered by Google's massive computing cloud, the interactive forest map establishes a new baseline for measuring deforestation and forest recovery across all of the world's countries, biomes, and forest types. The map has far-reaching implications for efforts to slow deforestation, which accounts for roughly ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities, according to the authors of the paper that describes the tool and details its first findings.
Ultraviolet nets significantly reduce sea turtle bycatch
(11/11/2013) Bycatch, a side-effect of commercial fishing in which non-target species are accidentally caught, is linked to severe population declines in several species. Sea turtles are particularly impacted by small-scale coastal gillnetting practices, in which large nets are deployed and indiscriminately snag anything of a certain size that attempts to swim through them. However, that may soon change.
Seahorses on your iPad: new app allows anyone to track and document seahorses
(11/08/2013) Annually, approximately 13 million seahorses—live and dead—are traded around the globe. At this scale, the seahorse trade is potentially very destructive to a group of animals comprised of 48 species, 11 of which are listed by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) as threatened with extinction.
Could camera trap videos galvanize the world to protect Yasuni from oil drilling?
(11/07/2013) Even ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine: clear-as-day footage of a jaguar plodding through the impenetrable Amazon, or a bicolored-spined porcupine balancing on a branch, or a troop of spider monkeys feeding at a clay lick, or a band of little coatis racing one-by-one from the dense foliage. These are things that even researchers who have spent a lifetime in the Amazon may never see. Now anyone can: scientists at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park have recently begun using camera trap videos to take movies of animals few will ever view in their lifetimes. The videos—following years of photo camera trapping—provide an intimate view of a world increasingly threatened by the oil industry.
Scientists identify individual lizards by their irises
(10/29/2013) Institutions and governments have been scanning human irises for years to verify one's identity—Google has been using this method since 2011—but could iris-scanning be employed on other species as well? According to a new study in Amphibia-Reptila, the answer is 'yes.' Scientists have recently employed iris scanning to visually distinguish individuals of an imperiled gecko subspecies (Tarentola boettgeri bischoffi) found on Portugal's Savage Islands off the coast of Western Sahara. l.
Wildlife drones could revolutionize aerial surveys of animal populations
(09/30/2013) In open areas, like the African savannah, scientists often estimate wildlife populations through manned aerial surveys. However a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal argues that using small drones may be more cost-effective, safer, and capable of reaching more remote areas. Researchers tested the accuracy of drone counts in Bazinga Game Ranch (NGR) in Burkina Faso.
Protecting predators in the wildest landscape you've never heard of
(09/10/2013) The Serengeti, the Congo, the Okavango Delta: many of Africa's great wildernesses are household names, however on a continent that never fails to surprise remain vast wild lands practically unknown to the global public. One of these is the Ruaha landscape: covering 51,800 square kilometers (20,000 square miles) of southern Tanzania's woodlands and savannah, Ruaha contains the largest population of elephants in East Africa, over 500 bird species, and a wealth of iconic top predators, including cheetah, hyena, wild dogs, leopard, and—the jewel in its crown—10 percent of the world's lions. But that's not all, one of Africa's least-known and secretive tribal groups, the Barabaig, also calls Ruaha home.
Google Earth presents fish-eye view of coral reefs
(08/20/2013) You can now visit up-close and personal some of the world's most imperiled ecosystems on Google Earth: coral reefs. The Google team is working with scientists to provide 360 degree panoramas, similar to Google street-view, to give armchair ecologists a chance to experience the most biodiverse ecosystems under the waves.
Deforestation alerts for Madagascar, DRC, Bolivia during Q2-2013
(08/16/2013) Loss of forest, woodland, and savanna increased sharply in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Bolivia during the second quarter of 2013, reports a new assessment by NASA scientists.
New Android app helps you identify frogs in the Western Ghats
(08/15/2013) Amphibians hop onto your Android phone in an app that focuses on ease of use. There are many among us who have gone out for a walk in the night, during the rains, and heard frogs chorusing. Or looked upon a small amphibian perched perilously by the wayside, and wondered what it is called.
Foodies eat lab-grown burger that could change the world
(08/06/2013) Yesterday at a press event in London, two food writers took a bite into the world's most unusual hamburger. Grown meticulously from cow stem cells, the hamburger patty represents the dream (or pipedream) of many animal rights activists and environmentalists. The burger was developed by Physiologist Mark Post of Maastricht University and funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin in an effort to create real meat without the corresponding environmental toll.
Near real-time deforestation monitoring system to go global
(07/25/2013) A near real-time deforestation monitoring system will soon cover all the world's tropical forests, report the researchers behind the initiative.
Researchers produce the most accurate carbon map for an entire country
(07/22/2013) Researchers working in Panama have produced the most accurate carbon map for an entire country. Using satellite imagery and extremely high-resolution Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data from airplane-based sensors, a team led by Greg Asner produced a detailed carbon map across the Central American country's forests. The map reveals variations in forest carbon density resulting from elevation, slope, climate, vegetation type, and canopy coverage.
Scientists build app to automatically identify species based on their calls
(07/16/2013) New technology makes it possible to automatically identify species by their vocalizations. The platform, detailed in the current issue of the journal PeerJ, has been used at sites in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica to identify frogs, insects, birds, and monkeys. Many of the animals identified by the system are typically difficult to spot in their natural environment, but audio recordings of their calls reveal not only their presence but also their activity patterns.
New forensic method tells the difference between poached and legal ivory
(07/01/2013) Forensic-dating could end a major loophole in the current global ban on ivory, according to a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Scientists have developed a method to determine the age of ivory, allowing traders to tell the difference between ivory taken before the ban in 1989, which is still legal, and recently-poached ivory.
NASA: Deforestation jumps in Malaysia
(06/10/2013) Deforestation jumped during the first three months of 2013 in Malaysia, Nepal and Mexico, according to a forest tracking tool developed by a team of NASA researchers.
Difference within common species may predict the presence of rare animals
(06/05/2013) When deciding whether or not to clear a patch of rainforest land for development, scientists are often called in to quantify how many different species exist there. But determining the number of rare and threatened species living in a section of jungle isn't easy. If they are very rare, the individual members of the species will be hard to find; if the area being surveyed is along a steep slope it may be difficult to access the area; if there are lots of species to identify, you might need to hire a dream team of biologists—each specialized within a different area of biodiversity—and that can get expensive. However a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal by an international group of scientists suggests a more cost-effective and efficient way to rapidly assess local biodiversity.
Data from NASA's Landsat 8 now freely available
(06/02/2013) Data from NAA's Landsat 8 is now freely available, enabling researchers and the general public to access images captured by the satellite within twelve hours of reception. Landsat 8 launched this February and has been capturing images since April. The satellite orbits Earth every 99 minutes and captures images of every point on the planet every 16 days, beaming 400 high resolution images to ground stations every 24 hours.
Could the Tasmanian tiger be hiding out in New Guinea?
(05/20/2013) Many people still believe the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus) survives in the wilds of Tasmania, even though the species was declared extinct over eighty years ago. Sightings and reports of the elusive carnivorous marsupial, which was the top predator on the island, pop-up almost as frequently as those of Bigfoot in North America, but to date no definitive evidence has emerged of its survival. Yet, a noted cryptozoologist (one who searches for hidden animals), Dr. Karl Shuker, wrote recently that tiger hunters should perhaps turn their attention to a different island: New Guinea.
Brazil's satellite monitoring reduced Amazon deforestation by 60,000 sq km in 5 years
(05/08/2013) Brazil's advanced satellite monitoring system, coupled with increased law enforcement, was responsible for nearly 60 percent of the 101,000 square kilometer-drop in deforestation observed between 2007 and 2011, argues a new study published an international think tank.
A new tool against illegal logging: tree DNA technology goes mainstream
(04/22/2013) Modern DNA technology offers a unique opportunity: you could pinpoint the origin of your table at home and track down if the trees it was made from were illegally obtained. Each wooden piece of furniture comes with a hidden natural barcode that can tell its story from a sapling in a forest all the way to your living room.
Entire planet will soon have rapid deforestation detection system
(04/09/2013) World Resources Institute (WRI) today previewed a long-awaited tool that could revolutionize global forest monitoring, reports the UN Forum on Forests, which is meeting this week in Istanbul, Turkey.
Conservation gets boost from new Landsat satellite
(04/03/2013) Efforts to monitor the world's forests and other ecosystems got a big boost in February with the launch of Landsat 8, NASA's newest earth observation satellite, which augments the crippled Landsat 7 currently orbiting Earth (technically Landsat 8 is still named the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) and will remain so until May when the USGS turns control of the satellite over to NASA). Landsat 8/LDCM is the most advanced Earth observation satellite to date. It is the eighth Landsat since the initial launch in 1972.
Scientists successfully freeze Barbary sheep embryos for conservation purposes
(03/18/2013) The Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia), or aoudad, is a goat-antelope found in northern Africa. It is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, with populations imperiled by hunting, habitat loss, and competition with livestock. Still little is known about its remaining population, prompting scientists in Mexico to test possible assisted reproduction of captive individuals.
Deforestation in key Madagascar park accelerated after 2009 coup d'etat, finds satellite analysis
(03/18/2013) Deforestation and forest disturbance in Madagascar's largest national park increased significantly less than a year after a coup displaced the country's democratically-elected president in 2009, finds a new study that analyzed forest cover in Masoala National Park.
A promising initiative to address deforestation in Brazil at the local level
(03/05/2013) The history of the Brazilian Amazon has long been marked by deforestation and degradation. Until recently the situation has been considered out of control. Then, in 2004, the Brazilian government launched an ambitious program to combat deforestation. Public pressure—both national and international—was one of the reasons that motivated the government to act. Another reason was that in 2004, deforestation contributed to more than 55 percent of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions, making Brazil the fourth-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.
Featured video: Saving the Amazon through maps
(02/20/2013) In a new video ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin, talks about recent—and historical—efforts to preserve the Amazon rainforest through map-making and technology. Today scientists like Plotkin are teaching indigenous people how to digitally map their territory to win land rights over the forest they've used for centuries.
Illegally logged trees to start calling for help
(01/24/2013) Illegal loggers beware: trees will soon be calling—literally—for backup. The Brazilian government has begun fixing trees with a wireless device, known as Invisible Tracck, which will allow trees to contact authorities after being felled and moved.
Bloodsucking flies help scientists identify rare, hard-to-find mammals
(01/16/2013) Last year scientists released a study that is likely to revolutionize how conservationists track elusive species. Researchers extracted the recently sucked blood of terrestrial leeches in Vietnam's remote Annamite Mountains and looked at the DNA of what they'd been feeding on: remarkably researchers were able to identify a number of endangered and rarely-seen mammals. In fact two of the species gleaned from these blood-meals had been discovered by scientists as late as the 1990s. In the past, trying to find rare and shy jungle animals required many man hours and a lot of funding. While the increasing use of remote camera traps has allowed scientists to expand their search, DNA sampling from leeches could be the next big step in simplifying (and cheapening) the quest for tracking the world's mammals.
How a text message could save an elephant or a rhino from a poacher
(01/15/2013) Soon a text message may save an elephant's or rhino's life. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is implementing a new alarm system in some protected areas that will alert rangers of intruders via a text message, reports the Guardian. Elephants and rhinos have been killed in record numbers across Africa as demand for illegal rhino horns and ivory in Asia has skyrocketed.
Advanced technology reveals massive tree die-off in remote, unexplored parts of the Amazon
(12/12/2012) Severe drought conditions in 2010 appear to have substantially increased tree mortality in the Western Amazon, a region thought largely immune from the worst effects of changes occurring in other parts of the world's largest rainforest, reported research presented last week at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The findings suggest that the Amazon may face higher-the-expected vulnerability to climate change, potentially undercutting its ability to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by absorbing carbon dioxide through faster growth.
Conservationists turn camera traps on tiger poachers
(11/12/2012) Remote camera traps, which take photos or video when a sensor is triggered, have been increasingly used to document rare and shy wildlife, but now conservationists are taking the technology one step further: detecting poachers. Already, camera traps set up for wildlife have captured images of park trespassers and poachers worldwide, but for the first time conservationists are setting camera traps with the specific goal of tracking illegal activity.
Strong deforestation signals from Central and West Africa in July, August, and September 2012
(11/06/2012) NASA satellites picked up signals of potential deforestation across extensive parts of Latin America, West and Central Africa, and Southeast Asia between July 1 and September 30, according to the latest update on Mongabay.com's Global Forest Disturbance Alert System (GloF-DAS).
A new tool for taking on elephant poaching: DNA forensics
(08/08/2012) One of the difficulties plaguing law enforcement and authorities when it comes to tackling elephant poaching is determining where the ivory originates. Now, research published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, has found a new way of tracking ivory back to wild elephants populations: forensic genetic studies.
3-D laser mapping shows elephants have big impact on trees
(08/06/2012) Scientists have long known that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are talented tree-topplers, able to take down even large trees in order to gobble out-of-reach leaves. However the extent of his behavior across a large area has been difficult to quantify. But a new study in Ecology Letters has used a bird's-eye view—with 3-D—of Kruger National Park in South Africa to determine the impact of elephants on trees.
10 African countries to develop satellite-based deforestation tracking systems with help of Brazil
(07/30/2012) Ten tropical African countries will receive training and support to develop national forest monitoring systems, reports the United Nations. Brazil, which has an advanced deforestation tracking system, will guide the initiative in partnership with the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Smartphones promoted as a tool for indigenous forest protection
(07/23/2012) Smartphones beeping in the woods may be a welcome presence that augurs the increased ability of indigenous communities to be stewards of their own biodiverse forests. Representatives of these communities and their supporters have advocated that international conservation policies like Reduced Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) be increasingly managed by the communities themselves.
Google Earth used to discover unknown forest in Angola, scientists find it full of rare birds
(07/09/2012) An expedition, followed up by some computer hunting on Google Earth, has discovered large remnants of old growth forest, including thriving bird communities, in the mountains of Angola. The Namba Mountains in Angola were expected to contain around 100 hectares of forest, but an on-the-ground survey, coupled with online research, has discovered numerous forest fragments totaling around 590 hectares in the remote mountains, boosting the chances for many rare species.
App designed to fight wildlife crime in Cambodia
(05/08/2012) Conservation NGO Wildlife Alliance has launched a new iPhone app that not only teaches users about Cambodian wildlife but also gives them information on how to help the group fight pervasive wildlife crime in the country. The app includes photos and information regarding species imperiled by the wildlife trade as well as informational videos with Jeff Corwin from the Animal Planet.
Does the Tasmanian tiger exist? Is the saola extinct? Ask the leeches
(04/30/2012) The use of remote camera traps, which photograph animals as they pass, has revolutionized research on endangered and cryptic species. The tool has even allowed scientists to document animals new to science or feared extinct. But as important as camera traps have become, they are still prohibitively expensive for many conservationists and require many grueling hours in remote forests. A new paper in Current Biology, however, announces an incredibly innovative and cheaper way of recording rare mammals: seek out the leeches that feed on them. The research found that the presence of mammals, at least, can be determined by testing the victim's blood for DNA stored in the leech.
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