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Combining artificial intelligence and citizen science to improve wildlife surveys

22 / 03 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

A research team testing the capacity of both citizen scientists and machine learning algorithms to help survey the annual wildebeest migration in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania found that both methods could produce accurate animal counts, a boon for park managers. The iconic migration of 1.3 million blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and 250,000 common zebra (Equus quagga) between Serengeti and the Masaai Mara National Reserve in Kenya is the largest terrestrial animal migration on Earth. Over one million wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus), plus tens of thousands of common zebra (Equus quagga) and other grazing antelope migrate seasonally across Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to find fresh grasses. Image by Sue Palminteri/Mongabay. The migration of so many herbivorous animals affects drives other biological process in the grassland ecosystem, including soil nutrient cycles, the balance of trees and grasses, and the abundance of insects, birds and carnivores. The population trend of the wildebeest in particular reflects levels of bushmeat poaching, disease, and other human disturbance. Understanding the health and dynamics of the migration is thus of key interest to both researcher and Park managers, yet the sheer numbers of animals have challenged monitoring efforts. “The major driving force in the Serengeti’s ecosystem is the abundance of wildebeest,” said senior author Grant Hopcraft of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health & Comparative Medicine, in a statement. “[The wildebeest] influence almost every variable in the ecosystem – everything from the return rate of fires, since they eat the grass, to the amount…

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