Residents of a Dubai community are working together with Emirates Nature - WWF to monitor and measure the health of its own ecosystem in real-time.
The Sustainable City in Dubai recently installed ultrasound recorders, motion cameras and audio recorders to monitor the diversity of the local species.
In just three months, experts have been able to identify an abundance of both native and non-native wildlife in the area.
And more than 30,000 recordings from birds and bats have also been captured by the monitoring equipment.
“With this initiative we want to understand what different species live within the area,” said Jacky Judas, manager and scientific advisor at Emirates Nature - WWF.
“We are monitoring both animal and plant species but our main focus is on two groups; birds and bats, because they are a little easier to monitor.
“In the natural environment there is an equilibrium in place which helps the ecosystem to survive.
“Species-rich communities are able to recover faster from disturbances than species-poor communities, so a diverse population is important.”
So far, the programme has identified more than 20 bird species living in the residential community including the Eurasian collared dove, laughing dove, white eared bulbul and house sparrow.
“What has been interesting is the association of species,” said Mr Judas.
“These birds tend to live in very different climates, from central America, like the Muscovy Duck, to south and east Asia, like the red-vented bulbul, so you don’t usually see them in the same habitat like this.
“It is interesting to understand how these species can co-exist together to form a new species community in an artificial habitat.”
An ultrasound recorder placed within the community has also helped to identify a bat species, the Kuhl’s pipistrelle.
Despite the fear mongering that goes with bats, Mr Judas said they play an important role in biodiversity.
With more than 1,000 bat species globally, many of the different populations are recognised as pollinators.
“They also eat insects and control insect populations," he said.
“The ones in this region tend to eat mosquitoes so they help regulate mosquito infestations.
“It’s good to have bats in urban communities.
"The diversity of birds, butterflies and bats is often an indication that a community is in good health."
To engage its residents, The Sustainable City is using two cloud-based platforms called iNaturalist and eBird to support the initiative.
Residents can upload images of different species spotted in the area to the platform.
The sightings uploaded by residents are recorded, classified and verified by Emirates Nature-WWF staff as well as a global community of scientists and naturalists.
“For decades, humans have encroached on natural habitats and caused a direct decline in animal populations,” said Karim El Jisr, sustainability officer for the community.
“The rapid loss of different species can cause an ecological imbalance.
“That in turn can have devastating impacts for countries and communities, a prime example being the recent locusts swarms we have witnessed around the globe.
“By connecting with nature like this we can make observations and invest in better management of our ecology.”
Wildlife populations plunging at an alarming rate
Animal populations have fallen by an average of 68 per cent in just 50 years, according to the latest findings from the Living Planet Report 2020.
As humans continue to alter landscapes and destroy natural habitats, it has had a detrimental impact on global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish.
Rapid urbanisation and unsustainable farming practices were identified as some of the key drivers contributing to the ongoing destruction of wildlife species.
The two-yearly report, published by the World Wildlife Federation and Zoological Society of London, was compiled by 134 experts from around the world.
It analysed data tracked from almost 21,000 populations of vertebrate species, an animal with a spinal cord surrounded by cartilage or bone.
“The 2020 global Living Planet Index showed an average 68 per cent fall in monitored populations between 1970 and 2016,” the report said.
“The loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue but a development, economic, global security, ethical and moral one.
“It is also a self-preservation issue.”
In a stark warning, experts said humanity is overspending its biological budget every year and the “ecological footprint has exceeded the Earth’s rate of regeneration”.