University of Queensland revamps field course using Wildlife Insights
"This course would not have been feasible without Wildlife Insights."
- Zachary Amir, PhD student, University of Queensland
A new way to teach
A much beloved undergraduate biology course at the University of Queensland (UQ) was revamped using Wildlife Insights. The Field Ecology Studies course exposes students to a wide variety of ecological methods and applications, including how to sample wildlife to infer abundance and distribution patterns or how to associate different physical habitats with different plant communities. The course culminates in a week long field trip on Great Sandy National Park - K'gari (Fraser Island) Section where the students can apply methods learned to ask ecologically relevant questions and write a final research report.
Course coordinator Dr. Matthew Luskin and PhD student Zachary Amir created a new module about using cutting-edge technologies and analyses to help modernize the course and better prepare students for future careers as ecologists. With a UQ Student-Staff Partnership grant to re-design the course, Luskin and Amir created a detailed workbook about camera trapping, both in and out of the field. The leads also partnered with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) to conduct new camera trapping that would benefit both QPWS to monitor wildlife and would help UQ students learn how to sort and analyze a large scale camera trap survey.
After collecting data and uploading it to WI, the leads ran a course on campus to teach students about old methods used to sort data, artificial intelligence (AI), and how to analyze camera trap data. To show how fast, powerful, and useful AI and WI is for sorting images, all ~50 students logged into WI simultaneously (all using the same account) to verify computer vision identifications.
“In 1 hour… we had ~50 students successfully verify all blank images and species identifications from a 130,000+ image camera trap survey!”
After the practical session, students were very excited to set up cameras during the final field trip on K'gari. Each day, Amir took groups of students to manage the camera traps; either swapping SD cards, or collecting and deploying the cameras. At the end of the 5-day trip the class quickly flicked through the images together, but once students returned home they verified all species IDs on WI, downloaded the data for their analyses, and wrote their final reports. So many students wanted to write their reports using camera trap data that the leads had to limit the number of students with that topic. The papers that resulted from this project included predator-prey relationships on K'gari and comparisons of wildlife habitat associations from K'gari and mainland Australia. Needless to say, the course was a great success for both UQ students and QPWS and will be incorporated in future iterations of UQ's Field Ecology Studies course.
Freedom and Flexibility
In the past the course leads used Sanderson's CamSweet method to organize files in a specific folder directory where they could then run a program that converted the folder structure into a .txt file. While this method is still more efficient than hand-writing spreadsheets, it is still too slow to be implemented in a 1 hour class and wasn’t practical when working with more than a few people because individual files can be easily lost or overwritten. Amir found that WI was also incredibly useful after the field course was completed. He uploaded the images collected during the field course to WI, but because the students already knew how to use WI, that was his last step of involvement. Students sorted out images and accessed the data on their own, and had the freedom and flexibility to craft their research projects.
Next steps for Amir
Amir says he's excited for the road ahead: "I'm a PhD student currently using camera traps to study wildlife in Australia and Southeast Asia. My research and the goals of the Ecology Field Studies course are very closely aligned and presented an exciting opportunity to synergize a single method that can be applied to multiple projects. I'm about to begin a very large camera trapping campaign in Australia's Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and I have no worries about getting my data sorted or collecting too many images thanks to WI. Moreover, I know I can get help from the community and my friends to help verify all species IDs in my new camera trapping because it worked so well with the UQ students.
I really enjoy the great user interface for storing and accessing the hundreds of thousands of photos I have uploaded to WI and being able to find and download the good ones right away. This has made sharing my research and images with the public much easier and more engaging."
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