Scientists launch drones, send sniffer dogs to detect invasive species

RICHMOND, B.C. -- Field technicians on the hunt for invasive species used to go on foot, by canoe or relied on satellite photographs taken from outer space.

See Full Article

But an ecologist who dispatched a drone to detect invaders in a British Columbia wildlife area is now recommending more remote-controlled robots do the difficult work.

"With a drone we're looking at pixel sizes that are teeny tiny. The resolution is amazing. You can literally zoom in and see all the petals on that flower," said Catherine Tarasoff, an adjunct professor at Thompson Rivers University.

"I've gotten past the steep learning curve and see the unlimited possibilities."

Tarasoff trialled the unmanned aerial technology last June at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, an internationally protected wetland in south-central B.C.

The successful experiment was one of several cutting-edge advancements showcased in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday in the ongoing battle against invasive species. More than 150 specialists from across the province are gathered for three days to discuss emerging issues and learn about the latest techniques to apply in their own regions.

"There's way more technology involved than there used to be," said Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of B.C., which is hosting the forum. "We're in a whole new world now."

Wallin said technology has not only empowered the experts, but is making a dent by enlisting the public. For example, there are now smartphone apps that help identify and report what's in your backyard.

The council hopes to persuade people to take preventative actions against spreading invasives as a new social norm, just like recycling, she said.

"Now I can give you tools, and without being an invasive species specialist, you can go and find out what is invasive and what to do," she said, noting the strategies are also being disseminated over social media.

"You don't need to know about mussels or spartina or milfoil, or anything like that."

Prof. Tarasoff, who also runs her own consulting firm, ran the drone pilot project after she was approached by the wildlife area's manager, who suggested she try the increasingly popular technology.

So she sent two students and the drone out for two days to map a vast region being consumed by the yellow flag iris, a plant considered one of the province's worst invasives. The species with garden-flower appeal was used by landscapers all along the coast before ecologists realized it was swallowing aquatic environments and decimating habitats.

Tarasoff said the camera-mounted drone soared about 50 metres above to snap thousands of photos, which were stitched together into a massive final image. When viewed on a computer, she could move her mouse cursor over any spot to find out its GPS location. The data was handed over to experts tasked with weeding out the invader.

Drones could save money over the long-term and provide an alternative to dangerous, labour-intensive foraging, she said. Her next goal is to train a "smart drone" that can determine on its own which species must be photographed.

Other novel techniques gaining traction and reducing human error include sniffer dogs and DNA analysis, the forum heard.

Cindy Sawchuk, with Alberta's environment and parks ministry, described using canines' ultra-sensitive nose as a "gamechanger" for blocking the entry of zebra and quagga mussels on boats returning to the province after visiting foreign waters.

A double-blind trial that compared dogs to trained watercraft inspectors found the animals outperformed humans in every category, she said. Dogs detected mussel-fouled boats 100 per cent of the time, while the people only caught hitchhikers 75 per cent accurately.

Canada's federal fisheries department is also getting on board with more sophisticated detection methods, said Davon Callander, who works at its Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, B.C.

She said that invasive species can now be detected in environmental DNA, which is found abundantly in any ecosystem.

"It really is as easy as going out and getting a litre of water," she said, explaining how the samples are filtered for the "eDNA," which is then amplified, sequenced and matched to species' barcodes.

"Times are changing."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • 'Monster bird' fossil found in New Zealand

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The fossilised bones of an ancient penguin the size of a pro-wrestler have been discovered in New Zealand, scientists said Tuesday, dubbing the creature "monster bird." With an average height of 1.7 metres (5.5 feet) and a weight of 100 kilogrammes (220 pounds), the giant bird is thought to be one of the world's biggest extinct penguin species, easily dwarfing its cuddly-looking modern descendants. Source
  • North American birders flock to N.B. tree after rare bird from Europe spotted

    Tech & Science CTV News
    MIRAMICHI, N.B. -- New Brunswick has a rare visitor from Europe and it's attracting bird lovers from across Canada and the United States. A European mistle thrush arrived in Miramichi on Saturday, and decided to stay. Source
  • Birth of new island could help search for life on Mars: NASA

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NASA researchers are studying the formation of a new Pacific Ocean island in order to find clues for where to search for past life on Mars. Located in the South Pacific nation of Tonga, Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai began forming after the eruption of an underwater volcano in Dec. Source
  • Fetid attraction: London fatberg to go on museum display

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LONDON -- Part of a monster fatberg that clogged one of London's sewers is destined for fame in a museum. The Museum of London says it will put the only remaining chunk of the 130-metric-ton (143-U.S. Source
  • Telescope to scan mysterious cigar-shaped asteroid for signs of alien technology

    Tech & Science CTV News
    If E.T. has a cellphone, astronomers are hoping to find it. Researchers will use a listening telescope to search for signs of alien technology on ‘Oumuamua, the mysterious, fast-moving, cigar-shaped interstellar object currently speeding through our solar system. Source
  • Pregnant woman wants seat on Tokyo metro: there's an app for that

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Pregnant women struggling to bag a seat on the famously packed Tokyo subway could find their salvation in a new app connecting them with nearby passengers willing to give up their coveted perch. The digital match-making app being trialled this week on the metro aims to overcome two problems especially prevalent in Japan: passengers generally have their nose buried in their phones and talking is strictly frowned upon. Source
  • SpaceX delivery via recycled rocket delayed a day

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - SpaceX has delayed its latest grocery run for the International Space Station for at least a day. The company now aims to launch its first recycled rocket for NASA on Wednesday. Source
  • Arctic report card: Permafrost thawing faster than before

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW ORLEANS - A new report finds permafrost in the Arctic is thawing faster than ever before. The annual report card released Tuesday also finds water is warming and sea ice is melting at the fastest pace in 1,500 years at the top of the world. Source
  • Tokyo airport to be 'scattered' with robots for 2020 Olympics

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Visitors to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics can expect to arrive at an airport "scattered" with robots to help them, an official said Tuesday as he unveiled seven new machines to perform tasks from helping with luggage to language assistance. Source
  • NASA to announce major planet-hunting discovery made possible by AI

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NASA is poised to make a significant announcement involving the search for Earth-like planets, in an effort that has been aided by artificial intelligence designed by Google. NASA and Google have scheduled a news conference to reveal their findings at 1 p.m. Source