A group project with Mick Geerits, Duncan Carter and Eirini Maliaraki. The ‘Augmented Nature’ project was carried out in close collaboration with scientists to develop the next generation of high-tech biotags that can augment the capacities of endangered species. These active solutions enable so-called Ecosystem Engineer species namely the Humpback whale and the Peccary to reclaim and change their own habitats. Both experimental interventions shed a new light on how we interact with other species. These are the first step towards a future where instead of mitigating our impact on nature, we aim for a positive impact.
The 6th Mass Extinction
The rate of extinction is about a thousand times what it used to be before humans. One species goes extinct every 5 minutes. Over the past 30 years 75% of all insects went extinct. 95% of all large predatory fish that roamed the seas are now gone. It probably comes as no surprise we are living in the 6th mass extinction. The big difference with the previous five is that this one is induced by humans.
Augmented Nature is a set of robotic tools that help animals adapt to the mass extinction. The tools enhance the capacities of so called Ecosystem Engineer species to reclaim and change their own habitats.
The resilience of an ecosystem is strongly related to its biodiversity. Ecosystem engineers are species that engineer their environment and are highly interconnected within the ecosystem. Think for example of a beaver building a dam and creating wetlands that form the habitat for hundreds of other species. By actively enhancing these types of capabilities in endangered species we aim to provide an answer to the sharp decline in biodiversity.
A new approach to conservation
We propose an active and animal-centered alternative to the current conservation efforts. Our premise is that humans are part of nature. Hence, efforts that try to separate species or revert nature to a certain state in the past (re-wilding, preservation) are not realistic. Nature is a dynamic system and evolution is equally driven by species adapting to change but also by transforming the environment for their purposes.
We worked in close collaboration with scientists to develop the next generation of high-tech biologging tags. These experimental interventions are the first step towards a future where instead of mitigating our impact on nature, we aim for a positive impact. We demonstrate this approach with two example animals: humpback whales and collared peccaries.
Our new Whale biotag
Current advances in biologging technology have enabled scientists to passively gather ocean data and shed more light on whale behaviours. Our proposed tag attaches to the whale but does more than just measuring data on noise, depth and position. With its integrated underwater speaker the tag can actively communicate with the whale and use sound to inform them about the positions of nearby ships.
Our new Peccary biotag
Our new biotag supports the ecosystem engineering capacities of the peccaries and enables them to rebuild their habitats. It uses vibrations to convey information about the forest and guides peccaries towards deforested areas where they can disperse seeds. The tag also has the capacity to locate valuable new resources in the forest, i.e fruit, herbs that are useful to the local communities and can provide new income sources as an alternative to logging.