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Big Brother protects animal kingdom
CWI-workshop on biodiversity, sensors and mathematics.
How can we apply computers, cameras and the internet to effectively guard biodiversity? This question is one of the topics during the workshop ‘Distributed Sensing and Collective Intelligence in Biodiversity Monitoring' organized by the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam from 3 till 6 December 2008. Experts from all over the world will gather to discuss new opportunities offered by sensors, internet and the efforts of volunteers.
Knowledge of migration, procreation and food patterns is a prerequisite to protect biodiversity. One of the speakers, marine biologist Brad Norman (Ecocean, Australia), set up a website where amateur divers from all over the world can upload pictures of the rare whale shark. The lines and spots on the skin of this huge animal are as unique as a human fingerprint. Through a large database of pictures the computer can trace the individual. Combined with data like location (GPS) and time, an observation can be added to the ever growing database. E-mails report volunteers about the animal's fortunes.
Another manner of observing is the use of sensors and permanent cameras, for instance to watch a colony of nesting birds. One of the other speakers equips bumblebees with RFID tags - a miniature version of the security tags used in clothing shops - to register their behaviour. All these situations create a massive amount of data that must be digitally stored and efficiently queried. This data explosion is an important research theme at CWI. This way mathematicians and computer scientists can contribute to new insights in biology.
More information and registration: see the workshop website.
Picture 1: Whale shark, source Ecocean, http:whaleshark.org
Picture 2: Bumblebee with RFID tag, source Nigel Raine, Queen Mary University of London.