Building Community Partnerships

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Posted: January 22, 2021

By Irene Gray

What happens when you involve the general public in capturing research data? The Center for the Advancement of Spatial Informatics Research and Education (ASPIRE), led by Christopher Lippitt, PhD, is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Carinthia University of Applied Sciences in Austria to find out.

Through their partnership, their project titled “Ducks and Drones” is creating a less invasive method of counting and identifying the number of waterfowl in wildlife preserves throughout New Mexico. From images captured by ASPIRE’s drones at the Bosque del Apache and Maxwell National Wildlife Refuges, the general public is being encouraged to participate in this research by labeling these images at their SciStarter page. As of this publication, over 22,000 individual labels of birds have been made by users which will provide the benchmark for future waterfowl identification.

The ultimate goal of this effort is to build a machine-learning algorithm that can automatically identify birds in drone imagery so that it doesn’t have to be done manually. In order to accomplish this, the algorithm needs a library of examples to identify what a duck looks like in comparison to a goose, for example. Citizen scientists are helping researchers build this library while learning about conservation and data science.

The technologies being developed will allow the USFWS to properly identify migratory waterfowl more accurately through imagery, improving the ability of wildlife preserves to provide for and sustain the population. Being able to accurately identify the species through non-invasive means only serves to amplify this effort.

ASPIRE is currently working with USFWS outreach coordinators to create learning modules and lesson plans to encourage classrooms around the country to participate in the Ducks and Drones project. They hope to build a broad-reaching education and outreach network that the USFWS can use to engage students on other wildlife and technology related topics in the future.

You, too, can participate by becoming a citizen scientist here. To learn more about the Ducks and Drones project, click here.