UPskilling and upscaling Brazilian weather Radar for the study of Aerial INsects

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Biology

Abstract

Changes in the natural environment are creating large shifts in the animals and plants on which we rely. However, conventional approaches to the monitoring of biodiversity have only provided limited insights into the rate of change and the drivers of that change. Primarily, our current ways of learning about the natural world are held back by an inability to survey regularly, an inability to quantify the number (abundance) or amount (biomass) of organisms, and an inability to survey simultaneously across large areas with consistent methods. The result is that, at a time when we recognise intuitively that there are serious environmental problems, scientists are still struggling even to demonstrate conclusively that those problems exist.

Our radar-based biodiversity monitoring approach represents a potential solution to this need for a biological monitoring yardstick. Radar networks have been in place for weather monitoring and forecasting for decades around the world and give high-resolution information about objects (usually rain and snow) in the atmosphere. However, we have demonstrated that weather radars also give useful information about how many animals are present in the air and our project team is applying our novel techniques in this project focused on Brazilian research priorities.

Our project has three main research aims, each of which constitutes a novel attempt at answering an old question within the Brazilian environment. First, we will apply our methods to track key crop pests as they move in and out of agricultural landscapes. We have at our disposal to complementary radar technologies - the first the weather radar networks on which our work has been focused and the second a novel radar device created by a Brazilian company that allows local scanning (within a field). The second research aim is to test whether patterns of pesticide application influence our detection of insects. Brazil has experienced a substantial increase in the diversity and abundance of chemical pesticides in the past decade, with largely unknown consequences for biodiversity. Finally, we will use an older form of weather radar that is scanning across the Amazon region of Brazil to explore whether it is possible to extract meaningful biological information about the state of rainforest insect populations. The rainforest analysis is high risk as it may not yield meaningful data due to the age of the radars. However, if there is useful information in the data then our methods could unlock a vast dataset of records of Amazonian biodiversity.

The final part of the project focuses on the broader collaboration between the Brazilian and UK parts of our team. The initial contact between the groups was brought about because of a need to exchange ideas and expertise in radar aeroecology. To help meet this need and to establish a way of working between the two communities of researchers, we will create an online training course that will teach the basics of radar science to the ecologists and ecology to the radar scientists such that the field of radar aeroecology is more accessible as it develops.

The key project outputs will be a collaborative paper exploring the application of radar biomonitoring to the Brazilian environment, the training course on aeroecological methods, and one or more papers describing the preliminary radar analysis of the agricultural pest, pesticide, and rainforest analysis that we will undertake. We have plans to build our network to deliver radar-based monitoring to other countries and this new collaboration will be an important cornerstone of that wider goal.

Publications

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