Researchers from UPC, Brazil and Australia get the first images and sounds of an observatory installed in the Amazon

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The great advance of this technology is the ability to identify species of animals through image and sound, and to automatically send this information to a database located in the LAB. Image by:

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Michel André, director of the UPC’s Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory (LAB)

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Ross Dungavalle, research of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), from Australia. Image: João Cunha

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The system also has a sound module located within a lake. Image: Amanda Lelis

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The system is trained to recognise more than 30 species of animals characteristic of Amazonian wildlife. Image: Amanda Lelis

The Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory (LAB) of UPC and scientists from Brazil and Australia have installed in the Brazilian reserves of Mamirauá and Amanã the first two sensors for real-time monitoring of biodiversity in the Amazon. In the framework of the Providence project, this action will help fight the extinction of species in the rainforest.

Apr 17, 2018

The pioneering Providence project is an important step forward with regard to knowledge of the Amazon and conservation of its biodiversity. The first ten wireless sensors installed one week ago at the southern end of the Mamirauá and Amanã Reserves constantly monitor wildlife under the cover of the rainforest. The scientific team, which is already receiving the first real-time records, is formed by the UPC’s Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory (LAB), of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (the only Spanish group); the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Institute and the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM), both from Brazil; and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), from Australia. This is the first stage of Providence, a project funded by the American Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Over a period of 12 days, a team of 30 people, including scientists and a member of the local indigenous communities, installed the network of sensors at the Mamirauá and Amanã Reserves between the Amazon and Japurá rivers in the state of Amazonas. They found that the technology works well in the Amazon flood forests, one of the most complex regions of the planet. With an area of more than 3.5 million hectares, these reserves are among the largest in the country and shelter many species of fauna and flora, some of them native to the region. The modules of the Providence technology are equipped with cameras and microphones that continuously capture the movement and behaviour of the creatures that live in the jungle.

The great advance of this technology is the ability to identify species of animals (birds, reptiles and mammals, as well as fish and insects) through image and sound, and to automatically send this information (via satellite, Wi-Fi or 3G) from the Mamirauá reserve to a database located in the LAB, from where they will be made available to society. The objective is to create a biodiversity observatory in the Amazon that is accessible to all.

Eyes and ears in the jungle
The system consists of two solar-powered modules, one for images and one for sound, that record and identify species of fauna. The image modules can film animals in daylight and at night (thanks to infrared lenses), and even during adverse weather conditions such as storms. To conserve energy, some of the image devices work in a semi-latent state, being activated only when an animal approaches them.

To ensure communication, the antennas are installed at the top of the tallest trees, from where they transmit photos, studies and species names to the database. The system also has a sound module located within a lake “to record the sounds of underwater species such as the pink river dolphin and the tucuxi, another species of cetacean”, says the leader of the Providence project in Spain, bioacoustics expert Michel André. André is director of the UPC’s Applied Bioacoustics Laboratory (LAB) and is linked to the Vilanova i la Geltrú School of Engineering (EPSEVG). He continues, “Providence allows us, for the first time, to establish a precise system for recording and assessing the state of biodiversity of this region of the Amazon, and it provides an alert system that will inform us of any changes that could threaten life in the jungle.”

André explains that the new acoustic analysis technologies “have the capacity to reach greater distances than image devices, which are limited by the density of the jungle, and they allow us to identify animals in real time by the sounds they emit.” In addition, the sound modules have two microphones, one for frequencies audible to humans and one for other frequencies such as those of bats, in addition to a hydrophone for recording dolphins and fish. The data will be available online on the Providence platform http://projectprovidence.org.

Artificial intelligence for recognising species
The acoustic identification of animal species is carried out by means of an artificial intelligence system developed by the LAB and originally used for monitoring marine noise pollution. In the current phase, the system is trained to recognise more than 30 species of animals characteristic of Amazonian wildlife, such as the jaguar, the river dolphin and various species of monkeys.

In the next stage of the project, the number of sensors in the network will be expanded to one hundred in order to monitor the entire range of the Mamirauá Reserve, which will then become the first reserve in the world to be constantly monitored. In the third stage, the project will be completed with the installation of a thousand sensor nodes throughout the Brazilian Amazon and in other countries with Amazon territories.

Species are becoming extinct faster than they can be catalogued, but accurate assessments of their biodiversity are needed. Lack of investment, the size of the Amazon—the largest tropical rainforest on Earth—and the low number of researchers working in this basin are some of the challenges addressed by the Providence project, an intelligent, efficient and sustainable system offering better results than traditional monitoring methods.

“We want this information and the technology to be useful to other researchers for the advancement of science. The system can be a tool for education, natural resource management and conservation for local communities and unit managers. In general, it can send a message to the world about what is happening with biodiversity in the Amazon”, says Emiliano Ramalho, a researcher at the Mamirauá Institute and the coordinator of Providence.