A million photos offer insight into the secretive lives of local wildlife

Artificial intelligence helps to study wildlife movement within Irvine open space.

Click. Irvine Ranch Conservancy wildlife cameras have snapped more than 1 million photographs on The Irvine Ranch over the past 15 years.

Now, IRC researchers are using artificial intelligence software to analyze those photographs to improve conservation efforts.

The software quickly sorts through thousands of images taken each week from 85 motion- and heat-triggered cameras, filtering out “false-trigger photos” with no animals in them.

“This is a game-changer,” says Nathan Gregory, IRC’s vice president and chief program officer. “It allows us to do our mission better, using scientifically informed data.”

The conservancy uses wildlife cameras to study animal movement throughout the nearly 30,000 acres of open space it manages on the historic Irvine Ranch.

With the added capabilities of AI software, IRC hopes to utilize its wildlife cameras in new ways, Gregory says, like studying the effects of fire on habitat and researching the habits of small mammals like native mice and voles.

It also opens the door to other new technologies like using sonar to study bats on The Irvine Ranch.

“Technology allows us to see the world in a whole new way,” Gregory says. “That’s exciting because we can show people how special our open space really is.”

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