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

  • Gifts for gamers: Everything from 'Star Wars' to 'Watch Dogs 2'

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    Picking a holiday gift for the video game lovers on your list can be as difficult as deciding on your starter Pokemon, your Skyrim character class or which augmentations to apply to Adam Jensen’s cybernetic body. (The gamers will understand those references, even if you don’t. Source
  • The weather outside is frightful thanks to climate change and the polar vortex

    Tech & Science CBC News
    With cold, blustering snowstorms battering the West Coast and the Prairies, you might be tempted to say "What global warming?" But climate change may, in fact, be to blame for this oh-so-Canadian winter. "Doesn't global warming mean that we're going to get warmer, shorter winters? Well, in some areas, yes, but it actually could mean we could see colder episodes," Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips told CBC News. Source
  • Cassini sends back 1st images from new orbit around Saturn

    Tech & Science CBC News
    NASA's Cassini spacecraft has sent back stunning close-up images of Saturn from its new orbit. The spacecraft, which has been at Saturn since 2004, recently entered a new ring-grazing orbit around the planet. While in its new territory, Cassini will study the rings — which extend up to 282,000 kilometres from the planet and range in size from small grains to a few as big as mountains — in unprecedented detail. Source
  • Award-winning scientist says compromise needed on climate debate

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Canadians need to turn down the heat and start listening to each other when they discuss global warming, says the winner of a major scientific award for his work on Arctic ice and climate change. "I think we need to talk," said John England of the University of Alberta, who was awarded the $50,000 Weston Family prize for northern research Wednesday in Winnipeg. Source
  • Your brain registers more than you think you see, NYU researchers find

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Your brain is capable of retaining information about things you think you haven't noticed, according to a team of scientists in a study published in the journal Neuron on Wednesday. "Our results indicate that what is 'invisible' to the naked eye can, in fact, be encoded and briefly stored by our brain," said the study's lead author, Jean-Rémi King, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University's (NYU) department of psychology. Source
  • Do you hear what AI hear?

    Tech & Science CBC News
    This time of year, it's almost impossible to avoid holiday music, from old classics to contemporary pop renditions. But one day, you may find yourself singing new holiday songs…written by a computer. A group of computer scientists at the University of Toronto recently published a paper called "Song From PI: A Musically Plausible Network for Pop Music Generation. Source
  • Apple blames external damage for flaming China iPhones

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Apple has blamed "external physical damage" for causing a handful of iPhones to explode or catch fire in China and insisted that its handsets posed no safety problem. Fresh on the heels of Samsung's worldwide Galaxy Note 7 safety fiasco, a Shanghai consumer watchdog said last Friday it had received eight recent reports of iPhones that spontaneously combusted while being used or charged. Source
  • These were Apple's most popular apps of 2016

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Apple has released their list of the most downloaded apps of 2016, which is topped by none other than Snapchat. The self-deleting, image and video-sharing app beat out Messenger and Pokémon Go to become the most popular downloaded app this year. Source
  • Record 607 bears killed in New Jersey's hunt

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TRENTON, N.J. -- Hunters have killed a record 607 bears in New Jersey. The number was reached Tuesday when hunters bagged 18 bruins during the second day of the second part of this year's hunt. Source
  • Get ready to give up your online privacy to score the perfect rental

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Your next landlord might comb through your social media history before handing over the keys thanks to a Canadian company injecting big data and artificial intelligence into the age-old process of renting a place to live. Source