Special journal to focus on digital innovation in nature conservation

Special journal to focus on digital innovation in nature conservation

A special edition of an international academic journal collated by University of Aberdeen researchers focussing on digital innovation in nature conservation has been published this week.

Academics from the University of Aberdeen, in collaboration with researchers from across the UK and beyond, have produced the special edition of Ambio - a journal of the human environment in recognition of the fact that digital technology increasingly shapes human interaction with nature, and that there is an urgent need to better understand the various dimensions of the phenomenon.

The edition of the journal unfolds a new concept, coined ‘digital conservation’, to encourage better understanding of the impacts of digital innovation on nature conservation. The idea of working towards the special issue on ‘digital conservation’ sprang from organising an international conference on the same topic in 2014.

The journal is split into five areas of research. The first part, Agenda setting and approaches, develops an industry perspective, considers what can be learned from digital innovation in human development, and evaluates progress made when conservation organisations and academics collaborate.

The next section covers Innovation in monitoring and management, with one paper proposing a new approached termed ‘wildlife in the cloud’ to enable active learning by practitioners from cloud-based ecological models. A further two unfold comprehensive new systems, one to continuously monitor birds around wind turbines to minimise bird collisions, and another streaming real-time bird sound from remote natural areas in Japan.

The third part focuses on developments in citizen science and engagement, which sees academics from the University of Aberdeen comparing the ability of traditional biological recording schemes and lay citizen science approaches to gather species distribution data. Researchers from Cornell University unfold their avant-garde approaches to handling the inherently noisy biological records provided by volunteers.

The penultimate section of the journal is dedicated to critical appraisal of digital technologies. It provides a practitioners account of the many challenges of camera trap use to monitoring wildlife, evaluates social consequences of using drones for nature conservation, and reveals how wildlife organisations struggle to balance the need to appeal  to both ‘minds’ and ‘hearts’ of the general public when using visual digital media for outreach.

The final contribution examines digital innovation in nature conservation and addresses how this may be steered.

Professor René van der Wal, from the University of Aberdeen and one of the guest editors of this special issue, said: “This has been a fantastic undertaking and I am extremely proud to see this special edition of Ambio come to fruition.

“Half of the articles come from the University’s very own dot.rural, which highlights the strength of research from the RCUK dot.rural digital economy hub.”

Dr Koen Arts, from Wageningen University, was the other guest editor. He said: “Digital conservation projects and initiatives are booming. Still, research into the precise impacts of digital applications on nature conservation is in its infancy. With this special issue, we hope to kick-start the much needed research and discussion, and help fledge a new discipline.”