Scientists and practitioners are engaging with new technologies in innovative and novel ways that look set to transform nature-related science and environmental management. The combination of low cost sensing technologies, widening access to data corpora, artificial; intelligence and software platforms is opening new opportunities and horizons for biodiversity and conservation science. This series will showcase a representative range of cutting edge science happening in Oxford and beyond. It aims to generate insight and discussion on the vision, components and transformative potential of new technological forces and discuss the implications of this for the future of pure, applied and interdisciplinary biodiversity science. It is guaranteed to inspire and challenge!

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New Horizons // Dr Paul Jepson, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

This short introductory presentation will introduce the forces that are driving this change and present a group of frameworks to think about and make sense of what is going on. It will introduce the new scientific practices that are emerging and pose questions on the implications and significance of technology for our field.

Key Reading
  • Leonelli, S., 2014. What difference does quantity make? On the epistemology of Big Data in biology. Big Data & Society, 1(1), p.2053951714534395.
  • Mazzocchi, F., 2015. Could Big Data be the end of theory in science? EMBO reports, p.e201541001.
  • Adams, W.M., 2017. Geographies of conservation II: Technology, surveillance and conservation by algorithm. Progress in Human Geography, p.0309132517740220.

These three papers offer insightful introductions to the two of the big questions we will consider and discuss in this seminar series: 1) is Big Data Science a new way of doing research and 2) what are the implications of the rise of research technologies for the social, environmental and political impacts of conservation science.

Supplementary Readings
  • Snaddon, J., Petrokofsky, G., Jepson, P., & Willis, K. J. (2013). Biodiversity technologies: tools as change agents. Biology letters, 9(1), 20121029.
    This paper reports the insights and findings of our 2012 Biodiversity Technologies Symposium and will enable you to positon developments since.
  • Arts, K., van der Wal, R., & Adams, W. M. (2015). Digital technology and the conservation of nature. Ambio, 44(4), 661-673.
    This is the introduction to the Ambio Supplement on Digital Conservation This foundational collection includes a range of fascinating papers and seeing who has cited each is a quick way to identify latest research and thinking.
Additional Readings

These two popular science books are important, inspiring, unsettling and easy reads that will help you positioning the seminars in a bigger picture. Key propositions put forward in by Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier are discussed in the key readings.

  • Kelly, K. 2016. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. Vicking.
  • Mayer-Schonberger, V and Cukier, K (2013) Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think. Houghton Mifflin Publishing Co.

Nekton: the new voyages of discovery // Professor Alex Rogers, Zoology, University of Oxford

A common refrain is that we know more about the surface of mars than we do about the oceans of our planet. Oxford's deep ocean research institute has assembled an awesome array of technologies to change all this. They look set to generate the biggest 'new knowing' of life on Earth since the 18th century voyages of discovery revealed the natural wonders beyond Europe. This seminar will introduce the vision, but focus on the nuts and bolts of the scientific techniques that underpin the enterprise.

Watch the original 'Nekton Mission II' video that Professor Alex Rogers showed (cut at 3:16) below:
Key Reading

Please review:

And read one or two papers that prompt your interest and curiosity from this list:

  • Danavaro R, Snelgrove P.V.R. and Tyler P.A. (2014) Challenging the paradigms of deep-sea ecology. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 29: 465-475.
  • Marsh L., et al. (2012) Microdistribution of faunal assemblages at deep-sea hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean. PLoS ONE, 7: e48348. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048348
  • Morris, K.J., Bett, B.J., Durden, J.M., Huvenne, V.A., Milligan, R., Jones, D.O., McPhail, S., Robert, K., Bailey, D.M. and Ruhl, H.A. (2014) A new method for ecological surveying of the abyss using autonomous underwater vehicle photography. Limnology and Oceanography: Methods, 12(11): 795-809.
  • Wynn, R.B., et al. (2014) Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs): Their past, present and future contributions to the advancement of marine geoscience. Marine Geology, 352: 451-468.

The Plastic Tide // Peter Kohler and Ellie MacKay, Plastic Tide, & Dr Dirk Gorissen, Oxbotica

We all know that plastic contamination in our seas is a problem but turning this into meaningful policy action is a challenge. In this seminar we hear from a multidisciplinary team who are developing and applying an approach to auto-detect, monitor and measure the levels of plastics washing up on our beaches. The technique involves an assembly of volunteer piloted drone-mounted video sensors and learning algorithms trained by citizen classifiers via the Zooniverse platform. The vision is to map where plastics and litter accumulate, to provide a new data source for research, policy and activism.

These two papers describe the technical aspects of object detection using machine learning:

These articles offer a short and readable introductions to the issues of ocean plastics:

  • Eriksen, M., Lebreton, L.C., Carson, H.S., Thiel, M., Moore, C.J., Borerro, J.C., Galgani, F., Ryan, P.G. and Reisser, J., 2014. Plastic pollution in the world's oceans: more than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons afloat at sea. PloS one, 9(12), p.e111913.
  • Lytie, c. (2017) When the mermaids cry: The great plastic tide.
  • Thompson, R., 2017. Environment: A journey on plastic seas. Nature, 547(7663), p.278.

Co-creating open-source conservation technology // Professor Alex Rogers, Department of Computer Science, University of Oxford

The emergence of low-cost, low-volume manufacturing processes such as 3D printing, laser cutting and online PCB assembly services, combined with intelligent algorithms and artificial intelligence, mean that it has never been easier to create custom hardware sensors to address particular conservation and environmental monitoring challenges. However, many endeavours in this space fail to scale beyond small trial deployments and thus fail to achieve significant impact. Often this is because the wrong technology was chosen, the wrong problem was solved, or because scale and support beyond the lifetime of the individual project was not considered at the outset. This seminar will explore approaches to co-creating conservation technology, whereby conservation experts and technologists work together to design and build low-cost sustainable open-source solutions to real world conservation challenges.

Key Readings
  • Cressey, D. (2017) The DIY electronics transforming research: Cheap, stripped-down microcontrollers are allowing users to pack huge amounts of computing power into tiny spaces.
  • Kwok, R (2017) Field Instruments: Build it yourself. Nature, 545, 253-255, 2017.
  • Supplementary Readings
  • Hill, A.P., Prince, P., Covarrubias, E.P., Doncaster, C.P., Snaddon, J.L. and Rogers, A., 2017. AudioMoth: Evaluation of a smart open acoustic device for monitoring biodiversity and the environment. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12955, 2017
  • Zilli, D., Parson, O., Merrett, G.V. and Rogers, A., 2014. A hidden Markov model-based acoustic cicada detector for crowdsourced smartphone biodiversity monitoring. Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research, 51, pp.805-827.

  • Agent-based modelling for policy design // Adam Formica, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

    Policy is described as an experiment in action: interventions are designed based on best-available knowledge and modified following studies of their effectiveness and lessons-learnt. ABM opens the prospect of modelling and exploring different policy scenarios. In addition, it creates a structured framework for identifying underlying casual assumptions and for collation of policy-relevant knowledge. This seminar will introduce the techniques, concepts and prospects through case studies of the Oxford Martin Programme on Sustainable Oceans and strategies to combat ivory poaching in African parks.

    Key Readings
  • Bandini, S., Manzoni, S. & Vizzari, G. (2009) Agent Based Modeling and Simulation: An Informatics Perspective, Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation 12 (4), 1-16
  • Books on ABM and key concepts
  • Gilbert, N. (2008) Agent-Based Models, SAGE Publications
  • Johnson, N. (2009) Simply Complexity: A Clear Guide to Complexity Theory, Oneworld Publications
  • Johnson, S. (2001) Emergence: The connected lives of ants, brains, cities and software Penguin Publications
  • Miller, J. H. & Page, S. E. (2007) Complex adaptive systems: An introduction to computational models of social life, Princeton University Press

  • Conservation Culturomics: new decision support currencies // Professor Richard Ladle, Federal University of Alagoas, Brazil; John Mittenmeier, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford; & Dr Paul Jepson, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

    The emergence of vast corpora of digital text opens the possibility of quantifying at scale the 'culturalness' of conservation entities: e.g. species and sites. This seminar will present work on the development of new decision-support 'currencies' metrics designed to advance the practice and science of conservation. It will explore the ontological and epistemology challenges associated with the new field of conservation culturomics, how they are being worked through, and the potential applications of the new metrics being generated.

    Key readings
  • Ladle, R.J., Correia, R.A., Do, Y., Joo, G.J., Malhado, A., Proulx, R., Roberge, J.M. and Jepson, P., 2016. Conservation culturomics. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(5), pp.269-275.
  • Correia, R., Jepson, P., Malhado, A. and Ladle, R. (2017) Internet scientific name frequency as an indicator of cultural salience of biodiversity. Ecological Indicators, 78: 549-555.
  • Roll, U., Mittermeier, J.C., Diaz, G.I., Novosolov, M., Feldman, A., Itescu, Y., Meiri, S. and Grenyer, R. (2016) Using Wikipedia page views to explore the cultural importance of global reptiles. Biological Conservation, 204(A): 42-50.
  • Supplementary readings
  • Correia, R.A., Jepson, P., Malhado, A.C.M. and Ladle, R.J. (2017) Culturomic assessment of Brazilian protected areas: Exploring a novel index of protected area visibility. Ecological Indicators, 85: 165-171.

  • Lasers in the Jungle // Dr Mathias Disney, University College London

    The last decade has seen the widespread use of laser or lidar technology to map the structure and function of ecosystems, either from airborne or space-borne platforms or from detailed surface scanning. This seminar explores the principles of this new technology, the challenges faced in acquiring, processing and interpreting the vast amounts of data collected. It focuses in particular on recent research and insights from our work in tropical forest regions.

    Key Readings
  • Gonzalez de Tanago, J., Lau, A., Bartholomeus, H., Herold, M., Avitabile, V., Raumonen, P., Martius, C., Goodman, R. C., Manuri, S., Burt, A., Disney, M. I. and Calders, K. (2017) Estimation of above-ground biomass of large tropical trees with Terrestrial LiDAR, Methods in Ecology and Evolution, doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12904.
  • Wilkes, P., Sarmiento, A. L., Disney, M. I., Calders, K. Burt, A., de Tanago Menaca, J. G. Bartholomeus, H. Brede, B. and Herold, M. (2017) Data Acquisition Considerations for Terrestrial Laser Scanning of Forest Plots, Remote Sensing of Environment, 196, 140-153, DOI: 10.1016/j.rse.2017.04.030.
  • Supplementary Readings
  • Cuni-Sanchez, A., Jeffrey, K., White, L. J. T., Burt, A., Calders, K., Disney, M. I., Gilpin, M. and Lewis, S. L. (2016) African savanna-forest boundary dynamics: a 20-year study, PLOS One, 11(6): e0156934. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0156934.
  • Disney, M. I. et al. (2018, forthcoming) Weighing trees with lasers: advances, challenges and opportunities, Royal Society Interface: Focus Special Issue on Royal Society meeting 'The terrestrial laser scanning revolution in forest ecology', Feb 2017.
  • Wireless Wytham: intelligent tools and novel science // Professor Tim Coulson and Aura Raulo, both Department of Zoology, University of Oxford; and Curt Lambeth

    The development of a suite of technologies, from intelligent traps to spatial monitoring devices, is enabling collection of high quality data from large numbers of small mammals whilst reducing animal suffering. This seminar will introduce these technologies and the motivation for deploying them in Wytham Woods. It will present the new horizons in field ecology that they afford, for instance the dynamics of the gut microbiota in free-living animals, along with the novel and exciting insights that they are generating and the new ecological and evolutionary questions that are arising from their use.

    Key Reading
  • Godsall, B., Coulson, T. and Malo, A.F., 2014. From physiology to space use: energy reserves and androgenization explain home‐range size variation in a woodland rodent. Journal of Animal Ecology, 83(1), pp.126-135.

  • Genomics: back to the future technologies // Professor Greger Larson, Dr Ophelie Lebrasseur and Evan Irving-Pease, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford

    Advances in DNA sequencing and informatics are enabling startling advances both in our ability to understand and reconstruct past, present and future ecologies. This seminar presents a future looking assessment of these advances, exploring the challenges and opportunities of this technology-empowered science along with emerging applications and associated ethical issues.

    Key Readings
  • Marciniak, S., Klunk, J., Devault, A., Enk, J. and Poinar, H.N., 2015. Ancient human genomics: the methodology behind reconstructing evolutionary pathways. Journal of human evolution, 79, pp.21-34.
  • Orlando, L., Gilbert, M.T.P. and Willerslev, E., 2015. Reconstructing ancient genomes and epigenomes. Nature Reviews Genetics, 16(7), pp.395-408.
  • Wörheide, G., Dohrmann, M. and Yang, Q., 2016. Molecular paleobiology—Progress and perspectives. Palaeoworld, 25(2), pp.138-148.
  • Supplementary Readings
  • Shapiro, Á. and Hofreiter, M., 2014. A paleogenomic perspective on evolution and gene function: new insights from ancient DNA. Science, 343(6169), p.1236573.
  • Frantz, L.A., Mullin, V.E., Pionnier-Capitan, M., Lebrasseur, O., Ollivier, M., Perri, A., Linderholm, A., Mattiangeli, V., Teasdale, M.D., Dimopoulos, E.A. and Tresset, A., 2016. Genomic and archaeological evidence suggest a dual origin of domestic dogs. Science, 352(6290), pp.1228-1231.
  • Venue

    The School of Geography and the Environment is in the Oxford University Centre for the Environment / Dyson Perrins building, which can be found on the corner of Hinshelwood Road and South Park Road in the University Science Area.