The Internet of Animals, a revolution frozen by the war in Ukraine

ANIMALS – Ttechnology and nature sometimes go hand in hand. If these two terms are generally opposed, a new project entitled ICARUS is trying to demonstrate the opposite. The goal? Create a huge bio-localization network that brings together no less than 100,000 animals equipped with tags to be able to follow developments in the climate and ecosystems.

Started in September 2020, the study is explained in the April issue of the journal Trends in ecology and evolution. It all started with a sunflower. The bird is actually the first animal to have been equipped with a new type of lighthouse called ICARUS (acronym for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space). The latter send their data to an antenna located on the International Space Station (ISS).

Much closer to Earth (about 400 km) the beacon therefore needs less power and a smaller battery than if it transmitted to a satellite. ICARUS beacons are so smaller, lighter. It is therefore easier to place them on smaller animals, generally migratory birds.

Thanks to this, the researchers intend to create a real “internet of animals” whose applications will be more. They hope to be able to prevent certain natural disasters such as storms and hurricanes, but also to protect biodiversity by combating illegal deforestation, poaching, etc.

Of course, these sensors can cause discomfort to the animal. Nevertheless, “every lighthouse is made to be as discreet as possible,” it explains HuffPost Romain Lorrillière, researcher at CESCO. The latter is also working on ICARUS models as part of a similar French program, the Kivi Kuaka project.

The war in Ukraine complicates matters

The war in Ukraine led to a halt in research using ICARUS lighthouses, such as the eponymous project run by Yale University’s Center for Biodiversity in the United States and the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany. .

In fact, beacons send to an antenna installed on the Russian part of the ISS (for technical reasons). But with the current conflict, any partnership with the Russian agency responsible for recovering the data has been stopped. However, the Internet of Animals is not stillborn, as Romain Lorrillière explains: The project “has not stopped in its philosophy, but it is stagnant”.

If there are no short-term solutions, the trade is different in the medium term. The researcher explains that by the end of 2024, scientists (and those from the ICARUS project) are working to develop a number of low-altitude satellites. This could make it possible to replace the antenna located on the ISS, while at the same time perfecting this system.

sentinel animals

Once the animal is equipped, the beacon transmits a whole lot of data (especially GPS), which is freely available online on a platform called Movebank. Currently, sensors are deployed at 91 locations on all continents as shown in the tweet below:

According to Romain Lorrillière, “if we were to see a definitive goal in this, it would be the improvement of early warning systems”. Animals are actually preferred allies in the collection of information in remote areas, which, for example, can help solidify weather forecast models.

Prevent disasters

The animals’ internet would therefore be a meteorological aid tool that makes it possible to identify future natural disasters more effectively. It seems particularly useful as a new UN report says the world may soon see more than one disaster a day.

An example of this contribution: tuna. Animals are victims of heavy fishing, causing fear for their survival, the latter may prove to be valuable allies in assessing the origin of hurricanes. As Romain Lorrillière explains, “monitoring tuna has shown that they seek warm water filled with fish), and that is the essence of hurricanes”.

The internet of animals would therefore be useful for us humans, but of course also for biodiversity. A study published in Nature explains, for example, that this system could predict the presence of poachers on the African savannah with about 86% accuracy.

A similar application exists at sea. To spot illegal fishing boats (which sail under radar), a study consisting of especially French researchers used albatrosses as sentries. These various works are explained in more detail in the video below from biologist and popularizer Léo Grasset:

A revolution?

In the past, researchers acquired more difficult knowledge and accompanied animals in the field. But the Internet of Animals does not mean that everything is being computerized, where scientists look at dots on a screen and eat their way down on satellite data. For it will always be necessary to set the benchmarks, and realize reality on earth.

Thus confirms Martin Wikelski, ornithologist at the University of Washington for New York Times that “this physical distancing (…) masks the deeper connection that wildlife tracking allows”. Optimism is therefore justified as the ICARUS guys mark a real turning point for scientists in the analysis of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Always in New York TimesWalter Jetz says it marks “a new era of discovery”, adding that “we are going to discover new migration routes, new habitat needs, things about the behavior of the species that we had not even thought of”.

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