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PI: Stevens, Christopher

Department: Engineering Science (DF)

Global pollinator declines present a threat to ecosystem function and human food security. Although there is guidance in place to support land managers in improving outcomes for pollinators, pollinator declines continue. In part, this is because there has not been empirical data on the effects of landscape content and configuration on landscape-scale pollinator behaviour, which affects foraging efficacy and survival probability. To address this problem, we have developed technology to track individual pollinators as they travel in real time. Our approach moves insect tracking technology forward by (1) reducing insect tag size and allowing horizontal orientation, suitable for ground-nesting insects, (2) reducing the size of the radar transmitter and receiver so that the transmitter can be hand-held and the receiver carried on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, drone), and (3) carrying the receiver on a UAV also reduces signal strength loss over distance and interference from vegetation. We have also developed a parallel visual tracking system that allows the UAV to pinpoint the insect at close range after the radar system brings the UAV within ~1-2m horizontal radius of the insect. With the support of the Oxford University Innovation (OUI) team, we submitted a patent application for this system in April, 2022. When this combined system is applied in the field, it will provide detail on pollinator movement at a spatial scale and level of detail never before possible. However, to date the system has mainly been tested in the lab, rather than the field. We are seeking an EPSRC-IAA grant for two one-week field trials with a period of 'de-bugging' in-between. This testing will support the patenting process and 'de-risk' the system. At the end of the field testing we will hold a 'technology launch' to demonstrate the tracking system to prospective users, in preparation for moving the technology into a social enterprise or commercialization as a licensable product.

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