community announcement / 24 September 2019

WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Series: Season Three


The WILDLABS Virtual Meetup Series is a program of webinars for community members and wider partners to discuss emerging topics in conservation technology and leverage existing community groups for virtual exchange. The aim of the series is to bring leading engineers in the tech sector together with academics and conservation practitioners to share information, identify obstacles, and discuss how to best move forward.

Season One of the series took place in late 2018, covering new data collection techniques through Networked Sensors for Security and Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) Prevention and Next-Generation Wildlife Tracking, and effective utilization of that information through Big Data in Conservation. Season Two ran during the first half of 2019 and focused on Tools and Spaces for Collaboration, the Low-Cost Open-Source Solutions these approaches are producing, and how to put the information they’re generating to use through Creative Approaches to Data-Driven Storytelling.

Season Three will take place throughout the second half of 2019, and will explore the theme of non-invasive monitoring technologies in conservation, including Camera Trapping, Environmental DNA (eDNA), Drones and Acoustic Monitoring. After a more approach-driven second season, we’re eager to dive back into the realm of development and implementation in the context of these ever-evolving tools.

We are always looking to tailor these meetups to community interests and needs, so if you have ideas about specific discussion points you'd like to see covered during this season please join the thread and share your thoughts.


  • Bring conservation and tech leaders into conversation beyond siloed groups and efforts
  • Highlight current efforts
  • Identify obstacles and ways forward


  1. Welcome and introductions (5 min)
  2. Opening speaker – current tech landscape (10 min)
  3. Engineer and conservation practitioner speed talks (10 min each)
  4. Q&A discussion (20 min)
  5. Optional ongoing discussion and community exchange (30 min)
  6. Takeaways and wrap up (5 min)

VM season 3 ep 1 image

Meetup 1: Camera Trapping

Date & Time

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

1:00pm-2:30pm GMT / 9:00am-10:30am EDT

Background & Need

Camera traps have been a key part of the conservation toolkit for decades. Remotely triggered video or still cameras allow researchers and managers to monitor cryptic species, survey populations, and support enforcement responses by documenting illegal activities. Increasingly, machine learning is being implemented to automate the processing of data generated by camera traps.

A study published earlier this year showed that, despite being well-established and widely used tools in conservation, progress in the development of camera traps has plateaued since the emergence of the modern model in the mid-2000s, leaving users struggling with many of the same issues they faced a decade ago. That manufacturer ratings have not improved over time, despite technological advancements, demonstrates the need for a new generation of innovative conservation camera traps. This meetup will address existing efforts, established needs, and what a next-generation camera trap might look like - including the integration of AI for data processing through initiatives like Wildlife Insights and Wild Me.

Agenda & Recordings

  • Welcome and introductions (5 min)
  • Roland Kays, Research Associate Professor at North Carolina State University and the Head of the Biodiversity Lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (watch here)
  • Sam Seccombe, Technical Project Manager and Field Specialist in the Conservation Tech Unit at ZSL (watch here)
  • Sara Beery, NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Caltech and Research Intern at Google (watch here)
  • Open discussion and community exchange (watch here)
  • Takeaways and wrap up (5 min)

See the event page for more information and discussion notes

VM season 3 ep 2 image

Meetup 2: Drones

Date & Time

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

3:00pm-4:30pm GMT / 10:00am-11:30am EST

Background & Need

In recent years, drone technologies have been explored for a range of applications in conservation including (but not limited to) mapping, biodiversity inventories, antipoaching patrols, wildlife tracking, and fire monitoring. Combined with other monitoring sensors and devices, they are capable of collecting high-resolution data quickly, noninvasively, and at a relatively low cost. However, challenges remain in putting these tools to use. A recent paper reviewing 256 conservation drone projects highlighted some of these major obstacles, ranging from unintended social and ecological consequences of drone operations to still prohibitive costs, both in terms of hardware and in terms of storing and processing large volumes of data. The longstanding challenge of power/battery life remains as well.

The rise of customizable, open-source drones like those of ArduPilot and OpenROV hold promise for more effective conservation applications, but there is a need to establish what technologies are available, how they are being used in concert with other conservation approaches, and what remaining challenges exist in applying them. This meetup will aim to address these questions, in addition to those raised by the community.

Agenda & Recordings

  • Welcome and introductions (5 min)
  • Craig Elder, Technical Community Manager at (watch here)
  • Dr. Claire Burke, Astro-Ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University (watch here)
  • Gabriel Levin, GIS Analyst at Conservation International (watch here)
  • Open discussion and community exchange (watch here)
  • Takeaways and wrap up (5 min)

See the event page for more information and discussion notes.

VM season 3 ep 3 image

Meetup 3: Environmental DNA (eDNA)

Date & Time

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

4:00pm-5:30pm GMT / 11:00am-12:30pm EST

Background & Need

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is a molecular sampling technology that collects information about organisms using DNA shed by them into their environment. While eDNA holds exciting potential to become an efficient, low-cost, non-invasive ecological monitoring method, a lack of standardization of approaches and purpose-built sampling equipment makes it hard to compare results and determine its actual effectiveness across studies. Detection success and accuracy also vary greatly among species and environments, making standardization a challenge. 

However, as eDNA moves toward becoming an industry-standard method for species detection and management, the equipment is beginning to transition from largely do-it-yourself experimental contraptions to professionally engineered tools. For example, Smith-Root Inc. recently developed the first-ever purpose-built eDNA sampling system, which they call ANDe™. We’re also seeing an expansion of eDNA applications from mainly marine to freshwater and even terrestrial environments, although the latter still requires substantial growth. 

As this nascent field develops, it is critical for the conservation tech community to explore and identify how eDNA applies to management needs, and to ensure that continued development meets those needs. Beyond indicating species presence, research so far suggests that eDNA can contribute to conservation by deepening understanding of population dynamics, resource usage, disease presence, invasion pathways of non-native species, and population genetics, to name a few. This indicates that it could be a critical tool for managing imperiled and invasive species. This meetup will explore some of these current and future applications of eDNA, articulate how it applies to conservation needs, and define what challenges we face in maximizing its potential.

Agenda & Recordings

  • Welcome and introductions (5 min)
  • Kat Bruce, Co-founder and Managing Director of NatureMetrics (watch here)
  • Alice Valentini, Research Officer at Spygen (watch here)
  • Robin Naidoo and Arnaud Lyet, Senior Wildlife Conservation Scientists at World Wildlife Fund  (watch here)
  • Open discussion and community exchange (watch here)
  • Takeaways and wrap up (5 min)

See the event page for more information and discussion notes.

VM season 3 ep 4 image

Meetup 4: Acoustic Monitoring

Date & Time

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020 

9:00pm-10:30pm GMT / 5:00pm-6:30pm EDT

Background & Need

Acoustic sensors enable efficient and non-invasive monitoring of a wide range of species, including many that are difficult to monitor in other ways. Although they were initially limited in application scope largely due to cost and hardware constraints, the development of low-cost, open-source models like the Audiomoth in recent years has increased access immensely and opened up new avenues of research. For example, some teams are using them to identify illicit human activities through the detection of associated sounds, like gunshots, vehicles, or chainsaws (e.g. OpenEars).

With this relatively novel dimension of wildlife monitoring rapidly advancing in both marine and terrestrial systems, it is crucial that we identify and share information about the utility and constraints of these sensors to inform efforts. A recent study identified advancements in hardware and machine learning applications, as well as early development of acoustic biodiversity indicators, as factors facilitating progress in the field. In terms of limitations, the authors highlight insufficient reference sound libraries, a lack of open-source audio processing tools, and a need for standardization of survey and analysis protocols. They also stress the importance of collaboration in moving forward, which is precisely what this meetup will aim to facilitate. 

Agenda & Recordings

  • Welcome and introductions (5 min)
  • David Watson, Professor in Ecology at Charles Sturt University; Chief Investigator Manager at the Australian Acoustic Observatory (watch here)
  • Dimitri Ponirakis, Senior Noise Analyst & Applications Manager for Cornell University's Bioacoustics Research Program (watch here)
  • Andrew Hill,  Electronic Engineer, Open Acoustic Devices & Ruby Lee, Director/Design Engineer, DesignFab (watch here)
  • Open discussion and community exchange (watch here)
  • Takeaways and wrap up (5 min)

See the event page for more information and discussion notes.

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