We are working with the Karajarri, Nyangumarta, Ngurrara and Ngururrpa Rangers in the Great Sandy Desert to monitor the response of reptiles and small mammals to different fire patterns on their Country.
These data are being used directly to inform the rangers’ fire management work to reduce the impact of widespread, destructive wildfires in the desert. We are using a variety of survey methods, including large-scale sensor camera surveys conducted independently or combined with trapping arrays.
These surveys generate thousands of sensor-camera images, which we have to go through individually to identify and record the animals on them. As you can imagine, this is very time consuming.
Sensor cameras are an effective tool, which detect anything that moves; we can capture everything, from goannas to desert mice. But they can also be triggered when it’s windy, when the sun shines too brightly, or when people walk past; therefore, we may get large image sets which don’t have any animals in them!
This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes in, and it’s a game changer. Rather than scrolling through and scanning thousands of ‘empty’ images, we can rely on the AI technology to do this work for us. We still need to double-check the AI model’s accuracy, but the time spent looking through the images and identifying what is in them has been significantly reduced since we started using this technology.
In this image, a monitor lizard has been detected by the Microsoft AI model called the ‘Megadetector’. At this stage, the Megadetector doesn’t identify the animal, it only detects that there is an animal; we still must identify it.
Sand goanna (Varanus gouldii) captured by AI Megadetector
With the rapid rise of AI technology, it is fair to be conscious of potential risks, but here is an example of an excellent, time efficient tool that helps us better understand and protect desert wildlife.
Written by Danielle Bain and Hamsini Bijlani.
Banner image: Spinifex hopping mouse (Notomys alexis) captured by AI Megadetector
The Sandy Deserts Fire and Biodiversity Project is supported by funding from the Western Australian Government’s State Natural Resource Management Program and Lotterywest.