Chesapeake Conservancy Welcomes Second Data Scientist with Expertise in Remote Sensing & Artificial Intelligence
Michael Evans, Ph.D., Joins Kumar Mainali, Ph.D., at Conservation Innovation Center
Annapolis, MD – Today, Chesapeake Conservancy announced the addition of a data scientist with expertise in remote sensing and artificial intelligence to the organization’s Conservation Innovation Center (CIC). Senior Data Scientist Michael Evans, Ph.D., joins Data Science Lead/Senior Data Scientist Kumar Mainali, Ph.D., who started working at the CIC in 2019. Both positions are funded by a grant from the Grayce B. Kerr Fund, Inc. Dr. Evans will develop new ways to use data and technology to improve conservation decision-making.
Dr. Evans holds a Ph.D. in natural resource management from the University of Connecticut and previously worked as the senior conservation data scientist at Defenders of Wildlife. There, he used spatial, remote sensing and administrative data to develop tools and approaches to better conserve imperiled species and improve federal conservation policy. He recently authored the paper, “Novel data show expert wildlife agencies are important to endangered species protection,” and co-authored two others, “Coproduce conservation technology with decision-makers and practitioners to increase its impact,” and “Pumas Puma concolor as ecological brokers: a review of their biotic relationships.”
Dr. Mainali’s recent publication in Science Advances proposes a new method for analyzing co-occurrence and similarity, that represents a major methodological development in the field of ecology. This new method offers improvements for analysis of similarities between populations or in geospatial patterns, which promises to improve analyses for biodiversity, landscape ecology and environmental science.
This new approach will be applied in an ambitious biodiversity mapping project that Dr. Mainali and Dr. Evans will shape at Chesapeake Conservancy using sophisticated machine learning and artificial intelligence to model future distribution of species. The initiative will examine habitat ranges of thousands of species and assess how changes in both climate and land use will impact the distribution of the native animal and plant species of our region.Using these data insights, we can create a dynamic understanding of the landscape that captures both species and people, to ensure that conservation and restoration efforts successfully protect tomorrow’s forests, wetlands and habitat.
“The academic endeavor of a static species distribution modeling at coarse spatial resolution is not going to be good enough to tackle the challenges of biodiversity conservation in a rapidly changing world. We aim to build a set of machine learning models and AI systems to guide us in our conservation efforts at parcel level to protect the parcels today that will matter most to species in the future,” says Dr. Mainali.
Together, Dr. Mainali and Dr. Evans will map biodiversity hotspots of species aggregation and community change resulting from climate change. “Dr. Evans brings a unique set of skills, expertise and insight in ecology, statistics and machine learning. Teaming up with Dr. Evans is going to add to our biodiversity mapping effort,” says Dr. Mainali. The project will also offer important insights into how major regional conservation and restoration efforts, such as restoration of the Chesapeake Bay, can leverage this information to support native biodiversity in a changing climate.
“I’ve been an admirer of the Conservancy’s work for a while, having previously collaborated with the CIC on several projects combining deep-learning approaches and remote sensing data,” said Dr. Evans. “The organization’s data-driven approach to conservation and focus on place-based impacts are unique and invigorating. I couldn’t be happier to join this team and see what the deliberate use of data and technology can achieve for conservation.”
“We’re excited to welcome Dr. Michael Evans, our second expert in machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said Chesapeake Conservancy Executive Vice President Mark Conway. “Machine learning, AI and deep learning are crucial to our partnership efforts to protect 30% of the Chesapeake Bay watershed by 2030.”
“Dr. Michael Evans brings to the Conservation Innovation Center a wealth of knowledge and experience related to data science, deep learning and precision conservation,” said Chesapeake Conservancy Vice President of Technology Susan Minnemeyer. “Now, with two data scientists on board, our growing data science team will generate data to empower better conservation strategies for the Chesapeake Bay watershed and beyond, developing tools and insights to better understand human impact on our environment and to create a more resilient future.”
The CIC was established in 2013 to use cutting-edge technology to empower data-driven conservation and restoration. Just as the use of technology changed the corporate world and made it more efficient, technology is doing the same for the conservation movement. Through local, national and international partnerships, the CIC makes this data accessible for restoration professionals to practice precision conservation, yielding greater impact with fewer resources.