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Latin American researchers use data to raise awareness, protect species

Publication date: April 22, 2013

Preserving wildlife diversity in Latin AmericaLatin America contains a diverse 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 the delicate balance that enables diverse ecosystems to flourish. Lack of knowledge also poses a threat. A new tool presents the opportunity for researchers and citizen scientists to help.

Preserving wildlife, one picture at a time

“We expect that LiveANDES will help us better know the distribution of native species. We might even find some species in new places we didn’t know about.”

— Mariano de la Maza, wildlife officer, Parks and Protected Areas Service of Chile (CONAF)

Many of Latin America’s endangered species are insufficiently studied; more information is needed to help preserve them. Scientists at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, in coordination with Microsoft Research, have developed a tool that they believe will help: LiveANDES (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species).

LiveANDES 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. Students built the LiveANDES platform under the supervision of Professor Andrés Neyem of the Computer Science Department at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. They used Microsoft technologies, including Windows Phone, Microsoft SQL Server data management software, Bing Maps, and the Microsoft .NET Framework.

The LiveANDES platform stores and parses data points about wildlife and natural areas.The LiveANDES platform stores and parses data points about wildlife and natural areas.The platform stores and parses data points about wildlife and natural areas by using photographs, audio and video recordings, and location and sighting information. Researchers use the data to identify species, where they currently dwell, and possible threats to their future. The tool is also capable of parsing huge volumes of recorded data so that it is manageable for researchers.

Protecting wildlife through data

The "culpeo zorro" or Andean fox is most common on the western slopes of the Andes.The "culpeo zorro" or Andean fox is most common on the western slopes of the Andes.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.

The research team is hopeful that hikers, park rangers, environmentalists, and others volunteers will capture information about native wildlife and upload it to the database in a “citizen science” effort.

“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 of Chile

Mariano de la Maza, a field biologist with the Park Service of Chile, is one of many people who are testing the usability of LiveANDES in the field in Chile. During one field visit, he 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. When he returned to the office, he uploaded his geo-referenced data and comments to the LiveANDES web portal, ready for parsing by the university team.

Once such data 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,” de la Maza explains.

The guanaco is one of the largest wild mammal species found in South America.The guanaco is one of the largest wild mammal species found in South America.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 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. IUCN members can use the system to make informed decisions about endangered species management.

Hope for future generations

“The LiveANDES project has allowed us to learn more about implementing technology, not only for teaching but to promote biodiversity.”

— Ignacio Sanchez-Diaz, chancellor, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

Ignacio Sanchez-Diaz, Chancellor of Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, is pleased to see the key role 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 Professor Andrés Neyem. This cloud-based platform is being developed with a goal of hiding large-scale data complexities and subsequent processing and transformation to the end users. Shifting large volumes of data to the cloud will provide scientists with a cost-efficient way to perform a variety of science data processing tasks.

LiveANDES mobile phone appLiveANDES mobile phone app“LiveANDES is an important breakthrough,” asserts Sanchez-Diaz. “Its specialized software and website can give people an open view of biodiversity in Chile and all the countries around the world.”