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

  • How cities are defending themselves against sea level rise

    Tech & Science CTV News
    HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Superstorm Sandy and a series of lesser coastal storms since that 2012 disaster compelled some coastal communities to defend themselves by elevating homes and critical infrastructure, building sand dunes, widening beaches and erecting or raising sea walls. Source
  • Warm weather in parts of Canada may deprive some areas of rich fall colours: expert

    Tech & Science CTV News
    Unseasonably warm weather in parts of Canada may deprive some areas of one of their trademark natural attractions -- rich fall colours. A forestry expert says the vivid red leaves that draw crowds of tourists to areas of Ontario and parts of Quebec are triggered by bright sunshine combined with cold temperatures. Source
  • Future of king salmon uncertain in Great Lakes

    Tech & Science CTV News
    DETROIT -- King salmon has helped create a multibillion-dollar sport fishery in the Great Lakes, but ripple effects of invasive species have left the fish's future less certain. The king, or chinook, salmon was first transplanted into the Great Lakes from the Pacific Northwest about 50 years ago. Source
  • EPA keeps agency scientists from speaking on climate change at conference

    Tech & Science CBC News
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) kept three scientists from speaking at a Monday event in a move condemned by researchers and Democratic members of Congress as an attempt by the agency to silence a discussion of climate change. Source
  • EPA keeps scientists from speaking about report on climate

    Tech & Science CTV News
    PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency kept three scientists from speaking at a Monday event in a move condemned by researchers and Democratic members of Congress as an attempt by the agency to silence a discussion of climate change. Source
  • 12 big cities sign 'fossil-fuel-free streets' declaration

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Zero emissions areas could mean more parks, pedestrian areas or roads where only electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles could enter to make cities more attractive places to live. They did not define how big "major areas" would be. Source
  • Dandelions found in oilsands tailings could help clean them up: researchers

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A dandelion growing in the middle of a barren patch of oilsands tailings might unlock one way to help clean them up. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon have found the dandelion was hosting a fungus that ate the residual chemicals in the tailings. Source
  • 238 cities, regions want to house Amazon's 2nd headquarters

    Tech & Science Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — Amazon said today that it received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the United States, Canada and Mexico hoping to be the home of the company’s second headquarters. The online retailer kicked off its hunt for a second home base in September, promising to bring 50,000 new jobs and spend more than US$5 billion on construction. Source
  • Stephen Hawking's PhD thesis goes online, website crashes

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LONDON -- Cambridge University has put Stephen Hawking's doctoral thesis online, triggering such interest that it crashed the university's website. Completed in 1966 when Hawking was 24, "Properties of Expanding Universes" explores ideas about the origins of the universe that have resonated through the scientist's career. Source
  • Britain to give Canada the shipwrecks of explorer Franklin

    Tech & Science CTV News
    LONDON - Britain will give Canada the shipwrecks of British explorer John Franklin, who tried to chart the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic in 1845. The Ministry Of Defence said in a statement it would transfer the ownership of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to Parks Canada, but retain a small sample of artifacts. Source