25 March 2017, The Hindu

Click to Conserve

The world runs on mobile applications. So is it possible to use them to protect it? Researchers of the CV Raman Laboratory of Ecological Informatics, which is part of the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management – Kerala (IIITM-K), have come up with an app that hopes to do so. They have developed BIOTA, a biodiversity app, which is aimed at gathering information on geographical distribution of species for conservation and educational purposes.

Team Biota

For the Environment(From Left) Saroj Kumar V, Jaishanker R Nair, Sooraj NP, Sajeev C Rajan & Athira K

Jaishanker R Nair, who headed the project, says, “Large-scale use of IT applications in ecological studies is very low compared to other fields. With this project we hope to change that.” The beta version of the app, BIOTA 1.0, was released as part of a research paper in the recently-concluded National Biodiversity Conference in Thiruvananthapuram.

The app aims at building up a database on different plant and animal species, along with their geographical distribution, which can then be used to create models for different studies and practical applications. “A lot of studies are being done by scientists in this field. Several reports on the findings they make are also being published regularly. But much of it remains unnoticed and unused as far as conservation efforts are concerned. The use of technology can change that in a big manner,” says Nair.

A simple interface

Although it is aimed at students and researchers, BIOTA is designed for ease of use. Opening the appgives you two options – phyto diversity and zoo diversity, that is, plants and animals.

Selecting either one of them takes you to a database with the names and photos of the different species. The user needs to select the species that he/she has come across from the list, which will activate the camera of the phone. The picture, date and time, latitude and longitude of the location, IMEI number of the mobile phone and the species name will be stored in the database server. The server will flag it on Google Maps after verifying the information.

Nair adds, “Over time, we can create a large distribution map of each species, which can be viewed using the app itself. These maps can then be used for developing different conservation models. The details can also be handed over to set-ups like National Biodiversity Database and Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The version we have released is focusing on invasive plant species, as it is one of the biggest difficulties faced by ecologists in India.” BIOTA 1.0, which currently lacks a verification system, lists10 common invasive species and one endemic species.

Nair believes such apps can help in other fields like public health, in which large-scale collection of data from large areas is involved. “The reporting of epidemics is still a slow process in the country. With an effective system, a farmer who has doubts regarding the death of a hen or a duck can create a flu alert using such applications. This can help the authorities to act fast,” he says.

The app is currently available only on Android platform and can be downloaded from Google Playstore. An iOS version is under development.