New technologies give conservationists abilities that would have been unimaginable in the past. Using remote sensors, satellite mapping, and drones, scientists and activists can now monitor deforestation and endangered wildlife in real time. Assessing habitat loss is another area of conservation in which new technologies might be put to use. Remote sensing, which uses satellites or aircraft to scan large areas of land, can be used to monitor changes in land cover that result in habitat loss, such as deforestation.
Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral. It can be seen as ambivalent, empowering, and hindering at the same time, but conservation efforts can benefit from incorporating many types of technology, including social media and analytical software programs. Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, is a type of technology that manages and analyzes spatial or geographic data. Countless conservation organizations and their efforts have employed GIS in recent decades, for a broad range of purposes,“ shares Steven Lamonde, Conservation Biology (MS) student at Antioch University New England.
Sharing the applications of GIS explored at the Antioch University New England campus, Steven says that it models potential habitat areas for endangered wildlife species, to benefit conservation work between non-profit organizations and private landowners. GIS monitors potential wildlife corridors to benefit conservation groups looking to purchase land. It aids in mapping animal movement using telemetry data and assessing impacts of climate change on the distribution of bird populations. Additionally, AUNE students have taken advantage of using an online application called Story Maps, to convey conservation issues using interactive maps. Two examples include mapping watershed characteristics along a river to benefit the place-based education of students in Minnesota and sharing the migration story of birds that depend on threatened habitat in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
But like many technologies, these new tools have risks. Tracking devices in the hand of poachers, for example, could prove devastating to endangered elephants.
Exploring the challenges involved in incorporating new technology into conservation, Steven shares, “Often, as with GIS, users need to overcome a steep learning curve before mastering the software. Therefore, there may be some delay between obtaining new technology and benefitting from its use. This challenge comes with an associated risk, that information may potentially be presented inaccurately, if users do not fully understand the new technology.”
Infrastructure is essential to the effective implementation of new technologies. Steven also identifies infrastructure as one of the prerequisites for incorporation of the latest technology and shares, “From a practical standpoint, the use of GIS requires computers that are more advanced than a basic laptop. These computers generally cost more money, so a financial investment must be made in the technology. Additionally, new technology can more effectively be implemented when new users undergo rigorous training by an experienced professional. A lack of training may lead to limited or erroneous use of the technology.”
Antioch currently offers three GIS courses, where students are introduced to ArcGIS, arguably the most advanced GIS software package available. Students who take the Introductory, Advanced, and Applied GIS courses are eligible to receive Antioch’s Certificate in Applied GIS, which is offered at the New England and Los Angeles campuses.