Mon, 13 Jul 2020

BEIJING, May 27 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists are using high-tech tools to try to bring endangered species like the green peafowl back from the brink.

Since the 1990s, the population of green peafowls, native to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, has dropped sharply in China. No pure green peafowls can be found in captivity.

Thanks to genome sequencing technology, six pure green peafowls have laid more than 20 eggs since late last year at the Kunming Institute of Zoology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Chinese researchers have been using new technologies like genome sequencing, remote sensing and artificial intelligence (AI) to protect biodiversity and safeguard the country's natural infrastructure.

Using genome sequencing and the published genome of pure green peafowl, researchers from the Kunming Institute of Zoology found six pure green peafowls in the Hengduan Mountains and breed them in labs imitating the wild environment.

Kunming is also home to the Germplasm Bank of Wild Species in Southwest China. This Chinese "Noah's Ark" comprises a seed vault, an in-vitro micro-propagation unit, a microorganism bank, an animal germplasm bank, and a DNA bank.

Scientists have saved more than 6,000 DNA samples of wild plants and animals in the DNA bank.

Li Dezhu, a leading researcher at the germplasm bank, said there are still many hurdles for the conservation of animal germplasm resources.

The research team has made progress in preserving some animal germ and embryo cells for a relatively short time. Under current technological conditions, the cell samples are yet to be restored to a living animal, but they provide an important reserve for future protection, Li said.

In 2013, the CAS launched the Chinese Biodiversity Observation and Research Network (Sino BON), a biodiversity network monitoring system supported by advanced technologies such as near ground remote sensing, satellite tracking and molecular biology.

According to its annual report in 2019, the network's remote sensing platform had applied ground-based and backpacked LiDAR (like radar but using light) as well as drones to map the forest structure more precisely, providing data support to better understand the biodiversity.

Infrared cameras to monitor wildlife were set up in 30 monitoring areas across the country with about 30 to 150 cameras in each area.

Last August, cameras recorded Bengal tigers for the first time in Tibet's Metok County, indicating the environment is suitable for the survival of the big cats.

The Sino BON also brought high-speed Internet to Chebaling National Natural Reserve in Guangdong Province, achieving automatic uploading, recognition and analysis of monitoring images.

New technologies also enable amateurs to engage in protecting biodiversity.

Last year, an app called "Notes of Life" went online. It allows people to take a photo and upload it to the app to identify an unknown plant or animal.

Developed by the Institute of Zoology under the CAS, the app is built on Baidu's PaddlePaddle, an open-source AI framework focusing on image recognition.

Lin Congtian, a researcher from the institute, said the lack of taxonomists, biologists who specialize in organism classification, has hindered biodiversity protection and the application of AI helps fill in the gap.

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