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Science News: Using artificial intelligence to monitor the health of wildlife

– G.A., Senior Editor

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, the general public has become very aware of the importance of tracking the incidence of diseases in the general population. The collection of such data in databases that can be accessed by healthcare professionals can be invaluable for identifying and combating newly emergent pathogens. However, humans are not the only species on Earth for which such data can be beneficial.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis have developed a wildlife disease surveillance system that they named the Wildlife Morbidity and Mortality Event Alert System. This system analyzes data for animals admitted to 30 wildlife rehabilitation centers throughout California. Natural language processing is used to categorize the reports according to species, age, the reason for admission to the rehabilitation center, and the final diagnosis. Artificial intelligence is then used to identify patterns in the data and alert wildlife experts of potential outbreaks among specific species.

The researchers have published the results of a pilot study that confirmed the effectiveness of the Wildlife Morbidity and Mortality Event Alert System in an article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Based on their results, they hope to expand the reach of the Wildlife Morbidity and Mortality Event Alert System by creating networks of wildlife rehabilitation centers in other regions around the world.

As the public has a heightened awareness of the potential for dangerous pathogens to jump from wild animals to humans, the wider adoption of this type of surveillance system could benefit humans in addition to helping wildlife experts treat and rehabilitate sick and injured animals. Such a system that leverages artificial intelligence would be a cost-effective means of ensuring that experts receive valuable information in a timely manner.

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