NSERC Alliance Grant supports McGill-led Canadian team, new global climate center on AI for biodiversity change
Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) Global Centres Initiative, announced the creation of a new Global Climate Center on AI and Biodiversity Change (ABC) to help provide solutions and to meet the challenges posed by the biodiversity crisis. The ABC Centre, which will be located at the University of Ohio, brings together researchers from six universities in the United States and Canada, including McGill, with partners in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia, to develop new AI-enabled, data-supported approaches to study how changes in climate are impacting life – including mammals, birds, insects, and plants – on Earth.
The Canadian team unites researchers from McGill, the University of British Columbia (UBC), and the University of Guelph, which was awarded a $3.75 million grant through the NSERC Alliance program in support of the Centre’s research activities. About $5 million was awarded by the National Science Foundation to researchers at Ohio State, the University of Pittsburgh and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The principal investigators from McGill are Assistant Professor (School of Computer Science) and Canada CIFAR AI Chair, David Rolnick, and Assistant Professor of Biology, Laura Pollock. "We are excited by this opportunity to scale up our work with the ecology community and integrate biodiversity knowledge with the data-processing abilities of AI," said Rolnick.
“McGill is grateful to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and to the National Science Foundation for these significant investments in the AI and Biodiversity Change (ABC) Global Climate Center,” said Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “ABC represents a growing network of AI and biodiversity-sciences researchers at McGill and at partner institutions across Canada and internationally, who are focused on finding novel and responsible solutions to the challenges posed by the global climate crisis.”
Tackling climate change with AI:
The accelerated loss of biodiversity due to climate change is a pressing issue facing the scientific community, which is currently lacking adequate data and tools to protect ecosystems under threat. Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are poised to help fill the current information gap that impedes this work but presently, data and tools to help fight the biodiversity crisis are limited, due to the fast pace of ecological change, global imbalances in resources, and the amount of expertise needed to gather data and create tools. "The climate is changing in Canada much faster than the global average, but we currently have little data to help us understand the impacts to biodiversity,” said Pollock. “This project will combine the best technology and incoming data to help us toward this goal."
With the NSERC Alliance funding, the McGill team will improve models that map critical habitat for biodiversity and that predict biodiversity changes into the future. The team will develop AI-enabled sensors for detecting and identifying species, and new methods for detecting fine-scale habitat from remotely sensed imagery. They will also establish the first early warning system for northward range shifts of species into Canada.