Microchips, 3D printers, augmented reality: High-tech tools helping scientists save our wildlife

Microchips, 3D printers, augmented reality: the high-tech tools helping scientists save our wildlife
Technology is making some artificial habitat structures more effective. Credit: Matthew Newton, WWF Australia

Around the world, Earth's natural environments are being destroyed at a truly shocking scale. It means places animals need to shelter and breed, such as tree hollows, rock crevices and reefs, are disappearing.

The only long-term way to protect these is to stop destroying their homes. But political resistance, financial interests and other factors often work to prevent this. So scientists must get creative to try and hold off extinction in the short term.

One way they do this is to create artificial habitat structures. Our new research, released today, examines how ingenious, high-tech innovation is making some structures more effective.

But artificial habitats are not a silver bullet. Some can harm animals, and they can be used by developers to distract from the damage their projects cause.

What are artificial habitat structures?

Animals rely on specific environmental features to survive, grow, reproduce and sustain healthy populations. Artificial structures seek to replicate these habitats.

Some artificial homes provide habitat for just one species, while others benefit entire ecological communities.

They've been built for a huge variety of animals across the world, such as:

  • boxes which mimic tree hollows, for beetles
  • nests made of coconut husks, for seabirds
  • nests made from mud brick and aerated concrete for the shy albatross
  • "hotels" based on fish traps, for seahorses
  • ceramic poles that provide a surface for spotted handfish to lay eggs
  • textured tiles attached to seawalls that provide habitat for up to 85 marine species.
A 3D-printed, modular artificial reef structure designed by Alex Goad.

How do new technologies help?

More recently, wildlife conservationists have partnered with engineers and designers to incorporate new and exciting technologies into artificial habitat design.

For example, researchers in Queensland recently installed microchip-automated doors on nest boxes for brushtail possums.

The doors opened only for microchipped possums as they came close, and most possums were trained to use them in about 11 days. Such technology may help to keep predators and other animals out of nest boxes provided for threatened species.

In New Zealand, small, native lizards hide from predatory house mice in the crevices of rock piles. Researchers used video game software to visualize these 3D spaces and create "Goldilocks" rock piles—those with crevices big enough to let lizards in, but small enough to exclude mice.

3D printing to create artificial habitats is also becoming increasingly common.

Scientists have used a combination of computer simulation, augmented reality and 3D-printing to create artificial owl nests that resemble termite mounds in trees.

And researchers and designers have created 3D-printed rock pools and reefs to provide habitat for sea life.

It's not all good news

Collaboration between scientists and engineers has enabled amazing new homes for wildlife, but there's still lots of room for improvement.

Microchips, 3D printers, augmented reality: the high-tech tools helping scientists save our wildlife
Artificial habitat, such as these tiles added to a seawall, can help a species’ short-term prospects. Credit: Alex Goad, Reef Design Lab

In some instances, artificial habitats may be detrimental to an animal's health. For example, they may get too hot or be placed in areas with little food or lots of predators.

And artificial habitats can become ineffective if not monitored and maintained.

Artificial habitat structures can also be used to greenwash environmentally destructive projects, or to distract from taking serious action on climate change and habitat loss.

Further, artificial habitat structures are often only feasible at small scales, and can be expensive to build, deploy and maintain.

If the root causes of species decline—including habitat destruction and —aren't addressed, artificial habitat structures will do little to help wildlife in the long-term.

What next?

It's great that conservationists can create high-tech homes for wildlife—but it would be better if they didn't have to.

Despite the dwindling numbers of countless species, environmental damage continues apace.

Native forests are cut down and rivers are dammed. Ocean shorelines are turned into marinas or seawalls and greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere.

Such actions are the root cause of species decline.

We strongly encourage further collaboration between scientists and engineers to improve artificial structures and help animal conservation. But as we help with one hand, we must stop destroying with the other.

Provided by The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.The Conversation

Citation: Microchips, 3D printers, augmented reality: High-tech tools helping scientists save our wildlife (2022, February 16) retrieved 24 June 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2022-02-microchips-3d-printers-augmented-reality.html
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