The Smart Forest Conundrum: Contextualizing Pitfalls of Sensors and AI in Conservation Science for Tropical Forests

This article explores the pitfalls that are useful to consider as forests are gradually converted to technological sites of data production for optimized biodiversity conservation and are consequently incorporated in the digital economy. The authors use examples from their work in Kibale National Park, Uganda which hosts the one of the longest continuously running research field station in Africa.

Date published: 2021/09/17

Title: The Smart Forest Conundrum: Contextualizing Pitfalls of Sensors and AI in Conservation Science for Tropical Forests

Authors: Dipto Sarkar, Colin A. Chapman

Journal: Tropical Conservation Science

Citation: Sarkar D, Chapman CA. The Smart Forest Conundrum: Contextualizing Pitfalls of Sensors and AI in Conservation Science for Tropical Forests. Tropical Conservation Science. January 2021. doi:10.1177/19400829211014740

Open Access: Yes

Abstract

The term ‘smart forest’ is not yet common, but the proliferation of sensors, algorithms, and technocentric thinking in conservation, as in most other aspects of our lives, suggests we are at the brink of this evolution. While there has been some critical discussion about the value of using smart technology in conservation, a holistic discussion about the broader technological, social, and economic interactions involved with using big data, sensors, artificial intelligence, and global corporations is largely missing. Here, we explore the pitfalls that are useful to consider as forests are gradually converted to technological sites of data production for optimized biodiversity conservation and are consequently incorporated in the digital economy. We consider who are the enablers of the technologically enhanced forests and how the gradual operationalization of smart forests will impact the traditional stakeholders of conservation. We also look at the implications of carpeting forests with sensors and the type of questions that will be encouraged. To contextualize our arguments, we provide examples from our work in Kibale National Park, Uganda which hosts the one of the longest continuously running research field station in Africa.

Keywords: sensors, monitoring technologies, poaching, protected area, Kibale National Park, drones, camera-traps, remote sensing, AI

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