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Using computer algorithm to catch the sound of endangered frogs

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Red legged frog. Image Source - Wikipedia
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  • Red-legged frogs are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
  • Gary Kittleson a biologist is trying determine whether the conservation efforts are helping or not.
  • Many steps have been taken to find  the frogs and conserve them.

In the east of swamp in Santa cruz , Califorina,  Gary Kittleson a biologist and young explorer is trying find the rare red legged frogs. A local trust has hired him, to determine whether their number is growing or decreasing.

The Area called Watsonville Slough is a important habitat for the red legged frogs.

These frogs lost their habitat due to over hunting for frog legs and development, and now it is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Kittleson says it is not a job to spot frog in thick brush and pick out their sound and differentiate from other frogs. The people who have untrained ears wouldn’t able to do it. But Gary is an expert and is capable listing to them even while talking.

But this method is an old way of counting animals and it requires lot of time and man power too. With just Kittleson one could get only a small size of data because he can’t be there the whole time.

Hence the local trust of Santa Cruz has also partnered with Conservation Metrics a company which specialises in protecting and conserving biological matters. The company and Kittleson have setup song meters – little green boxes with microphones that record all night and capture everything.

Data recorded in the song meter is then uploaded in computer and the company employees little green boxes with microphones that record all night and capture everything.  What would normally take a whole team of field biologists can now be done by one person and a computer says Matthew Mckown CEO of Conservation Metrics.

“Our whole point is to make conservation better, so we are trying to make it as cheap as possible,” he says.

Conservation Metrics was found three years ago. Mckown believes big data is the hot tool in conservation to study endangered animals and threatened habitats.

“What you’re going to start having is cameras, acoustic sensors, satellites trained on these important parts of the world,” he says.

Kittleson stays in the Watsonville Slough where night has fallen and he finally spots one and says “Beautiful. Adult red-legged frog,”

He is not too optimistic about the future of the red legged frogs. But he says good data is the only way to know if conservation efforts are helping.

by Bhaskar Raghavendran

Bhaskar is a graduate in Journalism and mass communication and a reporter at NewsGram. Twitter handle: bhaskar_ragha

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California Cuts Coffee Off From Cancer Causing Chemicals

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

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A posted Proposition 65 warning sign is seen on display at a coffee shop in Burbank, Calif., March 30, 2018.
A posted Proposition 65 warning sign is seen on display at a coffee shop in Burbank, Calif., March 30, 2018. VOA

California officials, having concluded coffee drinking is not a risky pastime, are proposing a regulation that will essentially tell consumers of America’s favorite beverage they can drink up without fear.

The unprecedented action Friday by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to propose a regulation to clear coffee of the stigma that it could pose a toxic risk followed a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.

The state agency implements a law passed by voters in 1986 that requires warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, which is found in many things and is a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing present in every cup of joe.

Win for coffee industry

If the regulation is adopted, it would be a huge win for the coffee industry, which faces potentially massive civil penalties after recently losing an 8-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that could require scary warnings on all coffee packaging sold in California.

Judge Elihu Berle found that Starbucks and other coffee roasters and retailers had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any cancer risks. He had previously ruled the companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

“The proposed regulation would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement. “The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”

A barista pours steamed milk into a cup of coffee at a cafe in Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2017. State health officials proposed a regulation change Friday that would declare coffee doesn't present a significant cancer risk, countering a California court ruling.
A barista pours steamed milk into a cup of coffee at a cafe in Los Angeles, Sept. 22, 2017. State health officials proposed a regulation change Friday that would declare coffee doesn’t present a significant cancer risk, countering a California court ruling. VOA

Unprecedented move

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said he was shocked the agency would move to nullify the court decision and undermine its own report more than a decade ago that drinking even small amounts of coffee resulted in a significant cancer risk.

“The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That’s unprecedented and bad,” Metzger said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.”

The National Coffee Association had no comment on the proposed change. In the past, the organization has said coffee has health benefits and that the lawsuit made a mockery of the state law intended to protect people from toxics.

Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth over many years, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers, with some studies finding health benefits.

Big Coffee didn’t deny that acrylamide was found in the coffee, but argued it was only found at low levels and was outweighed by other benefits such as antioxidants that reduce cancer risk.

Coffee beans
Coffee beans, Pixabay

Congress

The state agency’s action comes about a week after bipartisan bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to require science-based criteria for labels on food and other products. One of the sponsors, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, alluded to the California coffee lawsuit as an example of misleading warnings.

“When we have mandatory cancer warnings on a cup of coffee, something has gone seriously wrong with the process,” Schrader said in a news release. “We now have so many warnings unrelated to the actual health risk posed to consumers, that most people just ignore them.”

The lawsuit against Starbucks and 90 companies was brought by the tiny nonprofit under a law that allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.

Also read: What Does Your Coffee Say About You?

The law has been credited with reducing cancer-causing chemicals, but it has been criticized for leading to quick settlement shakedowns and vague warnings that are often ignored. (VOA)