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QCIF to build cutting-edge data processing infrastructure for wildlife research

QCIF is partnering with the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) Planet Research Data Commons (RDC) to scale up the Wildlife Observatory of Australia (WildObs), a collaborative initiative involving scientists, government agencies, and environmental groups focused on using machine-based observations to monitor wildlife.


Leveraging QCIF’s expertise in Machine Learning and research infrastructure, the project will develop a purpose-built capacity for storing, sharing, and analysing imagery collected using wildlife camera traps. The final product will be a wildlife data commons hosted by key partners such as the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). By integrating currently siloed camera trap data into a unified, standardised, and user-friendly continental database, WildObs will facilitate better access and analytics for researchers and policymakers.


The WildObs initiative is part of the ARDC Planet RDC National Machine Observation Processing Infrastructure. The project’s research lead is Dr Matthew Luskin, an ARC Senior Research Fellow and academic at The University of Queensland and is a partnership with TERN and QCIF.


Adjunct Professor Sach Jayasinghe, QCIF’s CEO and project lead said, “This collaboration is aligned with QCIF’s mission of accelerating research excellence and societal impact under our Sustainable Futures portfolio, which focuses on developing cutting-edge digital research infrastructure capabilities in conservation, climate and biodiversity.”


Key collaborators include TERN, ALA, the federal government (DCCEEW), Queensland Government (DESI), New South Wales government, Australian Museum and Museums Victoria, and numerous universities and NGOs including the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia (WWF), Birdlife Australia, Bush Heritage, and Australian Wildlife Conservancy, among others. Together, these organisations are driving the WildObs Project forward, enhancing wildlife research and conservation efforts.


Hamish Holewa, Director, Planet Research Data Commons, ARDC, said, “Machine observations are the hallmark of continental scale observations. The ARDC is bringing its expertise in partnering across the research and NGO sectors to develop enduring research infrastructure. With WildObs, the research community will collaborate on machine observation data storage and processing to capitalise on these rich data to conduct unprecedented research on how biodiversity is changing.”

The challenge

Bush dingo. Image: UQ/QPWS

Australia stands as a global leader in designing and deploying wildlife monitoring technology, boasting a vast number of wildlife camera traps. Thousands of these devices are strategically placed across the country to track terrestrial wildlife populations.


However, storing, processing and analysing the imagery and data has become a challenge for environmental scientists. To solve this problem, Dr Matthew Luskin, partnered with TERN, QCIF, and a team of Australian researchers from Sydney and Melbourne, and others, to launch the first dedicated terrestrial wildlife observatory in the world.


Luskin said “We know native wildlife populations are undergoing rapid changes due to disease outbreaks, invasive species, natural disasters like bushfires, and human encroachment into natural areas, but we have been unable to track these over large scales or long-time horizons. The Wildlife Observatory provides a standardised approach and data commons to solve this issue using camera traps.”


The project involves creating a tagged image data commons with a standardised processing pipeline, as well as an intuitive image management platform to store and organise raw data with AI-powered assistance to identify species and provide processed data at scale.


It also creates Application Programming Interface (API) data connections to share camera/acoustic survey data among key stakeholders, including the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), which both feed into decision making analytical platforms such as EcoCommons & Biosecurity Commons.


Dr Beryl Morris, Director of TERN, said she applauds the development of robust processing capability for data from observation of biodiversity using cameras. “Streamlining data processing to make the incidental and time series data retrievable by researchers and decision-makers will be a significant advance in realising the benefits of camera observations.”


TERN has been a keen collaborator with WildObs since its inception, helping to support the growth of the community of practitioners, development and use of standard protocols and data sharing. 


In this spirit and to ensure the success of the program, WildObs also aims to engage with the wildlife monitoring community by developing regular workshops, demos and training events, ensuring data commons development aligns with their research needs.


For more information about WildObs and to engage, visit the WildObs website and contact the QCIF Sustainable Futures team.


WildObs is a collaboration involving expertise from the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC), TERN, The University of Queensland, The University of Sydney, James Cook University, Deakin University, The University of Melbourne, Bush Heritage Australia, Queensland University of Technology, Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, NSW Government Department of Primary Industries.

WildObs received investment from the Australian Research Data Commons (ARDC) and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN), both of which are enabled by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).

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