Media Tip Sheet: Going High-Tech in Ecology

Featured presentations at the 105th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

July 20, 2020
For Immediate Release

Contact: Heidi Swanson, 833-8773 ext. 211, gro.asenull@idieh

As the world enters the digital age, ecologists are finding themselves equipped with the tools needed to answer longstanding questions — tools that previous generations of ecologists could only dream of. Cameras on planes, drones, and satellites provide imagery that can span the globe at sub-meter resolution. Geolocators have shrunk in size while growing more accurate than ever, allowing researchers to track rare and elusive animals. Networks of sensors are recording greenhouse gas emissions, animal calls, wildlife movement and more. At the same time, computing advances are rising to meet the challenge of analyzing terabytes of new data. The presentations listed here feature research that harnesses these high-tech advances in new and exciting ways. All will be presented at the Ecological Society of America’s upcoming virtual annual meeting, August 3–6, 2020, and will be available on-demand to registered attendees.

Virtual On-Demand Talks:

Scaling Ecological Insights
For a long time, logistics, technology, funding and computing power have limited the scope of ecological research, leaving us to glean insights from studies that are relatively small in scale. In this opening plenary talk, Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer at Microsoft, examines some of the barriers to scaling up the science addressing our greatest environmental challenges, and reviews some of the technological advances that are breaking down those barriers.

Machine learning for decision support in wildlife conservation and land management
Crafting a conservation plan for an area or a species is a complicated — and usually time-intensive — task. Artificial intelligence (AI) can help speed up the planning process by quickly processing the enormous amounts of data now available from cameras, geolocators, aerial and satellite imagery and other kinds of sensors. In this talk, Dan Morris of Microsoft discusses how two particular tasks central to most conservation planning — biodiversity monitoring and landcover mapping — can be aided by AI.

Near real time tracking of fishing activity around the globe
Humans are a top predator in the world’s oceans, but we have a poor understanding of our own collective fishing behavior. In this talk, Juan Mayorga explains how he uses satellite tracking to determine where and when nearly 80,000 fishing vessels around the globe sail, fish and refuel — information that could inform efforts to combat illegal fishing and excessive by-catch.

Integrating multiple remote sensing data types to improve retrieval of essential biodiversity variables
Advanced remote sensing imagery, now available from entities like NASA, the European Space Agency and the National Ecological Observatory Network, is valuable in its own right. But when combined with other forms of data, these new remote sensing products can offer profound new ecological insights. In this talk, Susan Ustin describes how her research incorporates data from different airborne imaging projects to map wetlands and tree distributions with extreme precision, and to document the effect that drought has across entire forests.

Wild robots: Developing DIY technology to investigate soil carbon flux in a long-term, landscape-scale, large herbivore exclosure experiment in a central Kenya savanna
Antelope, bison and other large grazers are known to exert control over carbon cycling in grasslands, which store a substantial portion of the world’s carbon. But exactly how large herbivores influence carbon flux from the soil to the atmosphere is poorly understood. In this talk, Elizabeth Forbes discusses her use of automated soil flux chambers — “fluxbots” — to pinpoint the locations and conditions under which large African grazers impact carbon cycling the most.

Automatic detection for passive acoustic monitoring of the African elephant
Until recently, researchers and land managers have struggled to monitor the locations and population sizes of animals that are rare, secretive or that live in dense vegetation. Acoustic monitoring, where recorders are placed in potential habitat to pick up animals’ calls, are a potential font of information — but the sheer quantity of recorded data this method generates is daunting. In this talk, Jonathan Gomes-Selman discusses the use of acoustic monitoring to detect African elephants, and a new machine learning algorithm that helps to process the mountains of acoustic data.

Where the wild things are: How wildlife navigate the Wasatch wildland-urban interface
As urban sprawl infiltrates the wildlands around cities, wildlife will either need to adapt to human presence, or flee. Knowing how wild animals respond to humans and our built environment would help conservationists mitigate the effects of sprawl, but monitoring wildlife behavior in these settings has, historically, been a serious challenge. In this talk, Austin Green describes a large community science effort to install and process the data from hundreds of camera traps throughout the Central Wasatch Mountain Range, in order to better understand which species are most impacted by development, and why.

Global patterns of disturbance and functional mammal community assemblage: A TEAM study
Another large camera trapping project, the Tropical Ecology Assessment and Monitoring Network (TEAM) seeks to measure the impact of natural environmental variation and human disturbance on tropical mammal communities around the world. In this talk, Daniel Gorczynski explains how the images from this network of cameras are being used to determine the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that human influence shapes tropical diversity.



Bears on film – Two approaches for studying predator-prey interactions yield large amounts of data
Photography and videography are similar technologies, but they each allow researchers to answer very different questions about wildlife. In this poster, Mathieu Leblond and his colleagues describe using them both — in the form of camera traps and camera collars — to study black bear predation on caribou.

Drone aerial mapping: Accuracy and limitations for predicting oyster habitat
For environmental mapping, researchers and managers have typically turned to satellite imagery, which offers a view of ecosystems on massive scales, but it often suffers from low resolution. In this poster, Shannon Dolan and her colleagues review the benefits — and drawbacks — of using drone-mounted cameras to map eastern oyster reefs along the North Carolina coast.

Land sharing or land sparing? What big data on wildlife-livestock movement, activity and interactions can reveal
In the United States, conservation often means setting aside areas where forms of intensive land use, such as agriculture and grazing, are prohibited. High yields and high wildlife diversity are incompatible, the thinking goes. In this poster, Daniel Rubenstein and his colleagues discuss a different model in Kenya, where cattle and wild grazers share the landscape. Using a slew of high-tech methods — from camera traps to geolocators to drone imagery — they address the question: “Do livestock compete with or promote wildlife?”


ESA Policy on Press Credentials
The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is offering complimentary registration at the 105th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America for press and institutional public information officers (see credential policy). The meeting is 100% virtual and will feature live plenaries, panels and Q&A sessions from August 3—6, 2020. Other sessions will be available for viewing on demand (both during and after the meeting) with asynchronous Q&A. To apply for press registration, please contact ESA Public Information Manager Heidi Swanson at gro.asenull@idieh.

Virtual Press Room
Pre-registered press will be offered access to a virtual press room.

Press Room hours:
Monday, August 3 — Thursday, August 6: 10:00 am — 5:00 pm EDT


The Ecological Society of America, founded in 1915, is the worlds largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000-member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin, and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in ecological science. Visit the ESA website at