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Chinese Researchers Launch App to Crowdsource Data for Bird Conservation
Update time: [June 10, 2020]
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Chinese scientists and researchers are looking to big data and crowdsourcing to shore up bird conservation and interest along China's coast.

The Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and Paulson Institute launched the iBirding app in Beijing on Friday, which will allow amateur birdwatchers and professional researchers alike to contribute to science by recording their bird sightings.

The application and database, jointly developed with the Paulson Institute, an independent think-tank, allows users to identify birds through comparing photos with its database, or through inputting a birds' shape and color. It is currently available as a mini program on Chinese social media platform WeChat under a Chinese name that translated to "love bird watching." 

The iBirding app allows users to identify birds through photos or through inputting birds' shape and color. /Screenshot of application

 "There is a difference between a few pairs of eyes and a few million pairs of eyes. So this platform is effective because regardless of whether they are professionals or amateurs, they are knowingly and unknowingly helping in researchers' data collection work," said Zhang Yue, president of Aita Foundation for Animal Protection, who hosted the online event.

To date, the database has more than 260,000 bird-watching records with 196 species identified and  880,000 photos have been used to train the bird identification system.

The project team has also identified 128 key coastal wetland habitats for waterbirds in China's 11 coastal provinces and assessed the changes and status of 61 coastal wetland habitats for waterbirds.

Over time, it is hoped the crowdsourced data will help identify trends and provide early warning signs when certain species and habitats that are in peril, not just in China, but in other parts of the world. 
The launch of the app shows how big data and AI can help in conservation efforts. With technology, regular civilians can also pitch in, not just to develop their interests, but also contribute right from the palm of their hands. (Image by /VCG)

"Birds don't recognize national borders," said Wendy Paulson, founder of Paulson Institute, a think-tank that's dedicated to fostering U.S.-China cooperation, noting that the collaboration with U.S. Cornell University eBird team, another online database of bird observations with real-time data about bird distribution, "will facilitate better informed decision-making in waterbird conservation in both countries."

Cornell University has one of the worlds largest citizen science programs for birding, data from which has been used for research and studies.

iBirding – comprising of a mobile app, a web database, a bird identification micro-program, and a visualization system of waterbirds migration routes – is a successful case for the application of big data and AI technologies in nature conservation, said Guo Huadong, academician of CAS and chief scientist of the Big Earth Science Data Engineering Project (CAS Earth Project).

China – a key node for bird conservation efforts

In the last few years, land reclamation for industrialization and urbanization depleted more than 70 percent of mudflats, destroying migratory birds' habitat. Concerned with the massive ecological damage, China formulated a policy to protect depleting coastal wetlands by banning any new reclamation.

China's coastal wetlands are important breeding, stopovers, and wintering sites not only for spoonbills but also for around 50 million migratory birds along the East Asia–Australasian Flyway.

The Hulun Lake in north China is a rare breeding ground and migratory stopover for many birds.

 China is located just at the center of the flyway, a route for migratory waterbirds from Alaska and Arctic Russia with their wintering grounds in Southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

Almost the entire world population of relict gull, Sunder's gull and spoonbill breed in the Bohai Bay at the border of Hebei Province and Tianjin Municipality.

The launch of the app shows how big data and AI can help in conservation efforts. With technology, regular civilians can also pitch in, not just to develop their interests, but also contribute right from the palm of their hands. (CGTN) 

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