Monday, February 26, 2024

App puts war on pests in users’ hands

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Find-A-Pest helps people to identify and report invasive species.
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University of Canterbury researchers and partners are using digital technology to help New Zealanders join the fight against invasive pests.

Find-A-Pest is an app that helps people to identify and report invasive species including plants, animals and insects – empowering users to safeguard New Zealand’s environment.

It is unique in NZ in that it creates a database of pest information that is used to support biosecurity knowledge and efforts across multiple organisations, including the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), the Department of Conservation (DOC), regional councils, and primary industry groups.

Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury Associate Professor and app adviser Steve Pawson said it can be used as an educational tool alongside its critical role in identifying pests across NZ.

“The app uses artificial intelligence [AI] to help identify pests and provides the user with information on the pests’ habitats, hosts and distribution. 

“We have a team of experts who confirm identifications and send feedback to users. We also integrate closely with the iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao nature recording platform, where citizen scientists contribute identification of existing pests, particularly weeds,” Pawson said.

He said Find-A-Pest is a valuable resource for anyone interested in protecting the environment. 

“By using the app, individuals can help to detect pests early, which supports pest management efforts and minimises damage to the environment.”

The MPI has played a significant role in the app’s development and has been involved from its inception in 2018.

MPI chief biosecurity officer Peter Thompson said it’s pleased to be a part of a collaboration creating “another tool in the biosecurity toolbox”. 

“With Find-A-Pest, we aim to encourage more people to join us in protecting our environment, economy and communities from the harmful effects of invasive species.”

The user doesn’t need to be an expert on pests. AI helps identify the species and this is followed up by an expert cross-checking the identification.

After initial feedback from users, updates to the app now provide offline capabilities, immediate identification, a simple reporting process and key information to educate users on the pests in NZ.

Find out more and download the app on the Find a Pest website.  

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