3d printers

High-tech tools helping scientists save our wildlife

Technology makes some artificial habitat structures more efficient. Credit: Matthew Newton, WWF Australia

Around the world, Earth’s natural environments are being destroyed on a truly shocking scale. This means places where animals need to shelter and breed, such as tree hollows, rock crevices and reefsdisappear.

The only long term way to protect these animals is to stop destroying their homes. But political resistance financial interests and other factors often work to prevent this. So scientists have to get creative in trying to delay extinction in the short term.

One way to do this is to create artificial habitat structures. Our new searchreleased today, examines how ingenious high-tech innovation makes certain structures more efficient.

But artificial habitats are not a silver bullet. Some can harm animals, and they can be used by developers to distract from harm caused by their projects.

What are artificial habitat structures?

Animals depend on specific environmental characteristics to survive, grow, reproduce and maintain healthy populations. Man-made structures seek to replicate these habitats.

Some man-made houses provide habitat for a single species, while others benefit entire ecological communities.

They have been built for a wide variety of animals around the world, such as:

  • boxes that imitate tree hollows, to beetles
  • nests made of coconut shells, for sea ​​birds
  • raw brick and cellular concrete nests for the shy albatross
  • “hotels” based on fish traps, for seahorses
  • ceramic posts that provide a surface for spotted handfish lay eggs
  • texture floor tile attached to breakwaters that are home to up to 85 marine species.





A modular 3D printed artificial reef structure designed by Alex Goad.

How do new technologies help?

More recently, wildlife advocates have in partnership with engineers and designers to integrate exciting new technologies into the design of artificial habitats.

For example, researchers in Queensland recently installed microchip automated doors on nesting boxes for brushtail opossums.

The gates only opened for the microchip opossums when they got close, and most opossums were trained to use them in about 11 days. Such technology can help keep predators and other animals away from nesting boxes intended for endangered species.

In New Zealand, small native lizards hide from predatory house mice in the crevices of rock piles. The researchers used video game software to visualize these 3D spaces and create “Goldilocks” rock piles – those with crevices large enough to let lizards in, but small enough to keep mice out.

3D printing to create artificial habitats is also becoming increasingly common.

Scientists used a combination of computer simulation, augmented reality and 3D printing to create artificial owl nests that look like termite mounds in the trees.

And researchers and designers have created 3D printed objects rock pools and reefs to provide habitat for marine life.

It’s not all good news

Collaboration between scientists and engineers has created incredible new habitats for wildlife, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Microchips, 3D printers, augmented reality: the high-tech tools that help scientists save our wildlife

Artificial habitat, like these tiles added to a dike, can help a species’ short-term prospects. Credit: Alex Goad, Reef Design Lab

In some cases, artificial habitats can harm an animal’s health. For example, they can get too hot or be placed in areas with little food or lots of predators.

And artificial habitats can become ineffective if not monitored and maintained.

Artificial habitat structures can also be used for greenwash environmentally destructive projects, or distract to take serious action against climate change and habitat loss.

Additionally, artificial habitat structures are often only feasible on a small scale and can be expensive to build, deploy, and maintain.

If the root causes of species decline, including habitat destruction and climate change, are not addressed, man-made habitat structures will do little to help wildlife in the long term.

After that ?

It’s great that conservationists can create high-tech homes for wildlife, but it would be better if they didn’t have to.

Despite the decline in the number of countless species, environmental damage continues rapidly.

Native forests are cut down and rivers are dammed. The shores of the ocean are transformed into marinas or breakwaters and greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Such actions are the cause of species decline.

We strongly encourage continued collaboration between scientists and engineers to improve artificial habitat structures and aid in animal conservation. But as we help with one hand, we must stop destroying with the other.


Artificial wildlife refuges are a popular palliative to habitat destruction, but more research is needed


Provided by The Conversation


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Quote: Microchips, 3D Printers, Augmented Reality: High Tech Tools Helping Scientists Save Our Wildlife (February 16, 2022) Retrieved March 31, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-02-microchips-3d- printers-augmented-reality.html

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