Tourist photos help wildlife conservation

Vacation photos like this one of zebras can teach researchers more about wildlife. Credit: snarglebarf

If you’re going on a vacation, you may be able to help researchers collect important information about endangered species. Researchers have trained computers to search social media and find photos of species like zebras and whales that tourists have posted to learn more about wild animals. Artificial intelligence can help researchers track information about animals’ movements and population trends. But they have also found a new use of AI—it can extract biological information about the animals in the photos, a field researchers refer to as imageomics. This information can help researchers develop population counts, birth and death dynamics, species ranges, social interactions and more.

Scientists presented information about this emerging technology last month at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Many species, like African elephants, are at risk of extinction. “We don’t have enough GPS collars and satellite tags to monitor all the elephants and answer those questions,” said Tanya Berger-Wolf, a professor of computer science and engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and evolution, ecology and organismal biology at Ohio State, who presented the research. “But we can use AI techniques such as machine learning to analyze images of elephants to provide much of the information we need.”

Check out information on the presentation here.