AI Methods Save The Biosphere!
AI Methods Save The Biosphere!
Written by Mike James   
Sunday, 08 September 2013

Microsoft Research has figured out how to save the maximum number of plant species by protecting the smallest areas possible. 

We all want to save as much biodiversity as possible. It isn't a just a matter of sentiment - diversity ensures that as many genes are available for our future study and use. The big problem is that conservation by protecting areas is costly because it deprives other humans of areas to support their particular way of life. Its a trade-off but there is no reason why we shouldn't try to optimize the choices.

Now Microsoft Researchers, Lucas Joppa and Piero Visconti of Microsoft Research Cambridge, Clinton N. Jenkins of North Carolina State, and Stuart L. Pimm of Duke, have used techniques more commonly found in AI to work out which areas should be protected.

The conclusion produced by the AI methodology is striking - if you protect 17% of the land on Earth you can preserve 67% of endemic plant species. This is a good trade-off. 

The algorithm used was a combination of a simple "greedy algorithm" and a "genetic algorithm. The initial allocation was performed using a greedy heuristic - i.e. find areas with the maximum plant species in the smallest area. Then the genetic algorithm was used to "breed" better solutions. The regions chosen were enlarged by adding neighbouring regions with maximum plant species density.

As Joppa comments:

“This is a fairly straightforward approach, but the results are often non-obvious. This is especially true for ‘endemic species,’ those species found in a region or a set of regions and nowhere else. Thus our algorithm was constantly trying to trade off picking small areas with just a few species—such as islands—where all the species are endemic only to that island, versus picking larger regions—such as the central Amazon—that have very many species, but proportionately not as many species found only within that region.”

The data on over 100,000 species was obtained from data compiled by the Royal Botanic Gardens in London. A map showing endemic species density color-codes to show high priority regions was also produced:




Ironically for such eco-friendly research, the paper detailing it is behind a paywall. 

More Information

Achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Goals for Plant Conservation (pay walled)

Algorithmic Analysis Leads to Efficient Approach for Plant Conservation

Related Articles

Bill Gates - How Software Can Save The World       

Neural Networks for Fossil Discovery

AI Does Chemistry

Evolving Soft Robots  

Turing's Biological Pattern Theory Proved           

The Genetic Algorithm       

Genetic Algorithms       


To be informed about new articles on I Programmer, install the I Programmer Toolbar, subscribe to the RSS feed, follow us on, Twitter, FacebookGoogle+ or Linkedin,  or sign up for our weekly newsletter.




or email your comment to:


Google's New Contributions to Landmark Recognition

Google Research is releasing Google-Landmarks, a dataset for the recognition of human-made and natural landmarks. It is also open-sourcing  Deep Local Features (DELF), an attentive local fea [ ... ]

Fear And Loathing In The App Store 20 - Apple Stops Crypto Currency Mining App

This is another very odd story that can be spun either way to suit your point of view. What could possibly be wrong with Apple removing an app that mines cryptocurrency? Read on to find out...

More News


Last Updated ( Sunday, 08 September 2013 )

RSS feed of news items only
I Programmer News
Copyright © 2018 All Rights Reserved.
Joomla! is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL License.