Currently, endangered species in Latin America are insufficiently studied compared to those in North America and Europe. Researchers at Microsoft Research, LACCIR Virtual Institute, and Pontifical Catholic
University of Chile are collaborating to develop better tools that provide a fresh approach for researchers and citizen scientists to map the distribution of endangered wildlife.
Latin America is a highly diverse area that contains an important part of the world’s flora and fauna. There are many issues threatening the ecological treasures of the region. Loss of habitat, fragmentation, and degradation of the native forests are depleting
Latin America’s natural resources. Scientists at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, in coordination with Microsoft Research, have developed a tool to improve the interaction between humankind and the region’s wild population: LiveANDES.
Preserving Wildlife, One Picture at a Time
Latin America is rich in biodiversity. It contains an important cross-section of the world’s flora and fauna and is home to many endangered species. Humanity’s growing footprint and climate change threaten to destroy this delicate eco-balance. Lack of knowledge
also poses a threat. Many of Latin America’s endangered species are poorly studied compared to those in North America and Europe, where citizen’s science is beginning to play a role.
||When people go to the wild, they can encounter an endangered animal by chance. You can use your Windows Phone, take a picture of them, and then locate [the geographical point] and upload the information to LiveANDES.
| Cristian Bonacic
Director, Fauna Australis Wildlife Laboratory, Pontifical Catholic University in Chile
“Each animal species is a very important piece of a puzzle as each citizen scientist and researcher is crucial to the success of preserving endangered species for the next generation,” notes Jaime Puente, Director of Microsoft Research Connections Latin America.
Some species are barely known in their native regions.
Raising awareness of these species and their environments is critical to stopping the damage being done by humanity and other environmental factors. Today’s communication technologies and hardware, plus the omnipresence of the Internet, make it simpler than
ever to deliver the message to the masses. But first, the message must be developed. Scientists at Pontifical Catholic University in Chile believe they have the answer: LiveANDES (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species).
The LiveANDES project is the result of a partnership between Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, the LACCIR (Latin American and Caribbean Collaborative ICT Research) Virtual Institute, and Microsoft Research. The platform was built by students, under the
supervision of Professor Andrés Neyem of the Computer Science Department at Pontifical Catholic University in Chile, by using Microsoft technologies, including Windows Phone, Microsoft SQL Server data management software, Bing Maps (for locating and visualizing
the animals), and the Microsoft .NET Framework (for programming).
“Through this LiveANDES project and through the technology involved, we can learn much more about how to implement technology in favor of biodiversity,” notes Ignacio Casas, Executive Director, Latin American and Caribbean Collaborative ICT Research.
The platform is designed to store and parse data points about Latin America’s wildlife, including photographs, audio and video recordings, and location and sighting data. Researchers use the data stored in the tool to identify species living in Latin America,
where they live today, and elements that may be threatening their future.
Casas explains that LiveANDES integrates with the fourth paradigm, a foundational concept of eScience, in which data-intensive computing facilitates scientific discovery. LiveANDES is designed to make parsing the huge volumes of data recorded manageable for
Protecting Wildlife Through Data
One of the goals of the LiveANDES project is to enter information about as many species as possible into the database. To achieve this goal, researchers are turning to nature enthusiasts for help. “When people go to the wild, they can encounter an endangered
animal by chance,” explains Cristian Bonacic, Director of Fauna Australis Wildlife Laboratory at Pontifical Catholic University in Chile. “You can use your Windows Phone, take a picture of them, and then locate [the geographical point] and upload the information
The research team is hopeful that hikers, park rangers, environmentalists, and others who are out in the wild will capture wildlife information and upload it to the database. Mariano de la Maza, Wildlife Officer with Parks and Protected Areas Service of Chile
(CONAF), is among the many people who are testing the usability of LiveANDES in the field. “We expect that LiveANDES will help us better know the distribution of native species,” de la Maza says. “We might even find some species in new places we didn’t know
|Many of Latin America’s endangered species are poorly studied compared
to those in North America and Europe, where citizen’s science is beginning
to play a role.
During one field visit, de la Maza spotted a guanaco, one of the largest wild mammal species found in South America. He used his smartphone to photograph the animal and captured the data by using the LiveANDES mobile phone app. “Guanacos are culturally important
for Chile,” de la Maza explains. “There have been a lot of efforts in the conservation of this species.”
After he returned to the office, de la Maza was able to upload the guanaco data directly into the LiveANDES web portal. Within a few minutes, his geo-referenced data, comments, and a time stamp were uploaded in a single record, ready for parsing by the university
Once data (such as de la Maza’s guanaco sighting) is processed, it is made available to scientists and the public worldwide in English and Spanish. To date, the team has identified more than 820 species of wildlife, including mammals, amphibians, reptiles,
and birds. “Knowing the species, we can start to work on the conservation strategies to bring back these populations—to save these populations,” he explains.
In addition to aiding local researchers, LiveANDES also will help scientists around the world keep the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list for endangered species accurate, complete, and up-to-date. The IUCN asks each member state
to provide information on the distribution, population trends, and main threats to its endangered species. Information from the red list is then used to classify and prioritize government and international efforts for protecting wildlife.
Currently, government agencies around the world lack a common way to share wildlife data and sightings with red list compilers. LiveANDES fulfills this need by providing an open-access, searchable database. In this way, IUCN members can use the system to make
informed decisions about endangered species management.
|The platform is designed to store and parse data points about Latin
America’s wildlife, including photographs, audio and video recordings,
and location and sighting data.
Hope for Future Generations
Ignacio Sanchez Diaz, Chancellor of Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, is pleased to see the key role that his institution has played in bringing fresh thinking to environmental science. “Our professors and students have worked hard to transfer research
into novel ideas for the past six years,” Sanchez Diaz observes. “The LiveANDES project has allowed us to learn more about implementing technology, not only for teaching but to promote biodiversity.”
And that’s just the beginning. “The team is building a mobile, cloud-shared environment for wildlife conservation based on Windows Azure,” explains Andrés Neyem. This cloud-based platform is being developed with a goal of hiding large-scale data complexities
and subsequent processing and transformation from the end users. Shifting large volumes of data to the cloud will provide a flexible and extensible platform for performing different science data processing tasks, which can be dynamically scaled to fulfill
scientists’ several computational requirements in a cost-efficient way.
“LiveANDES is an important breakthrough,” Sanchez Diaz says. “Its specialized software and website can give people an open view of biodiversity in Chile and all the countries around the world.”
PDF Versions of This Story: