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Galaz et al 2009

Galaz et al 2009

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Published by elvato
ICT, ecological monitoring, resilience theory, early warning, web crawl, global environmental change
ICT, ecological monitoring, resilience theory, early warning, web crawl, global environmental change

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: elvato on Mar 30, 2009
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06/16/2009

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Frontiers
in
Ecology 
and the
Environment
Can web crawlers revolutionizeecological monitoring?
Victor G
 
a
 
l
 
a
 
z, B
 
e
 
a
 
t
 
rice Cr
 
ona, Tim Daw, Ör
 
 ja
 
n Bod
 
in, M
 
agnus Nyst
 
r
 
öm, and Per Olsson
 Front Ecol Environ
2009; doi:10.1890/070204
This article is citable (as shown above) and is released from embargo once it is posted to the
Frontiers
e-View site (www.frontiersinecology.org).© The Ecological Society of Americawww.frontiersinecology.org
Please note:
This article was downloaded from
 Frontiers
e-View
, a service that publishes fully editedand formatted manuscripts before they appear in print in
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
.Readers are strongly advised to check the final print version in case any changes have been made.
e
 
s
 
e
 
s
 
 
© The Ecological Society of America
w
 
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w.f
 
r
 
ontier
 
sinecolo
 
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y.org
 
T
he combined impacts of global environmentalchange and the complex behavior of ecological sys-tems, create opportunities for major “ecological sur-prises” at various spatial scales (Schneider and Root1995; Gunderson 2003; Gordon
et al
. 2008). Ecosystemsprovide many vital ecosystem services (ES), such aswater purification and food production, but rapidchanges due to, for instance, climate change and shiftingglobal markets, present serious challenges to their futureability to deliver these life supporting services (MA2005). Examples of such changes include collapsing fish-eries at national and global scales (Berkes
et al
. 2006),irreversible degradation of freshwater ecosystems andcoral reefs, and decreasing soil productivity (Scheffer
etal
. 2001; MA 2005).The situation is exacerbated bynational and international responses to such changesthat are either insufficient or non-existent. Restorationmay be difficult, because feedbacks in the system can actto stabilize these new, undesirable ecosystem states(Scheffer
et al
. 2001; Gordon
et al
. 2008). It is thereforeof primary importance to try and avoid crossing thethresholds that lead to these outcomes.Despite advances in monitoring technology (Clark
etal
. 2001), it is evident that existing information onchanges in ES tends to be poor and contains serious gaps.Furthermore, existing monitoring systems are unable tocapture the impacts of rapid demographic, economic,and sociopolitical changes that result from economicdevelopment and increasing global flows of information,trade, and technology (MA 2005; Berkes
et al
. 2006;Carpenter
et al
. 2006). The difficulties in quantifyingsocial and ecological uncertainty, the lack of expertagreement on what indicators to monitor, poor-qualityexisting data, and the costs associated with setting uplong-term monitoring programs (Walters 2007) all ham-per our ability to steer away from, or to prepare for,abrupt changes to ecosystems and the loss of related ES.This is particularly true for countries that suffer frompoor governance and weak environmental institutions(Danielsen
et al
. 2003; UNEP 2007).
Information and communication technologies
The role of information and communication technology(ICT) – for economic growth, education, and humandevelopment – has been discussed elsewhere (Leach andScoones 2006). Meanwhile, the evolution of “web 2.0”permits more interactive use of the internet and allowsusers to post, edit, comment on, and provide information
CONCEPTSANDQUESTIONS
Can web crawlers revolutionize ecologicalmonitoring?
Victor G
 
al
 
a
 
z
1*
, B
 
e
 
atr
 
ice Cron
 
a
1,5
, Tim Daw
3
, Ör
 
 ja
 
n B
 
od
 
in
1,4
, Magnus Nyst
 
r
 
öm
1,2
, a
 
nd Per Olsson
1
 
Despite recent advances, ecosystem service monitoring is limited by insufficient data, the complexity of social–ecological systems, and poor integration of information that tracks changes in ecosystems and eco-nomic activities. However, new information and communication technologies are revolutionizing the genera-tion of, and access to, such data. Can researchers who are interested in ecological monitoring tap into theseincreased flows of information by “mining” the internet to detect “early-warning” signs that may signalabrupt ecological changes? Here, we explore the possibility of using web crawlers and internet-based informa-tion to complement conventional ecological monitoring, with a special emphasis on the prospects for avoid-ing “late warnings”, that is, when ecosystems have already shifted to less desirable states. Using examples fromcoral reef ecosystems, we explore the untapped potential, as well as the limitations, of relying on web-basedinformation to monitor ecosystem services and forewarn us of negative ecological shifts.
 Front Ecol Environ
2009; doi:10.1890/070204
1
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Stockholm,Sweden
*
(victor.galaz@stockholmresilience.su.se);
2
Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden;
3
School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK;
4
Department of Government, Uppsala University,Uppsala, Sweden;
5
The Centre for the Study of InstitutionalDiversity, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
In a nutshell:
Steering away from catastrophic shifts in ecosystems is of primeconcern in an era of global environmental changeExisting monitoring of ecosystem services is poor and frag-mented, especially in developing countriesInformation and communications technology is revolutioniz-ing the generation of, and access to, social, ecological, and eco-nomic informationSystematic “data mining” of such information through theinternet can provide important early warnings about possiblepending abrupt losses of ecosystem services
 
Web crawlers and ecological monitoringV Galaz
et al.
w
 
w
 
w.f
 
r
 
ont
 
ier
 
sinecolog
 
y.or
 
g©
The Ecological Society of America
 
in blogs and wikis or via podcasting, videoblogs, andother networking tools. Globally, access to informationtechnology is very unequally distributed (IER 2005;Leach and Scoones 2006), but access to, and use of, theinternet is increasing rapidly in all regions of the world.For example, between 2000 and 2004, the number of internet users in the developing world tripled, from 96million to almost 333 million; in Africa alone, the num-ber of users increased more than five-fold, from 4.3 to21.8 million, during that same period (IER 2005).The rapid development of ICT has not only led toincreased flows of information at a global scale, but alsosets the stage for innovative uses of internet-based infor-mation – ranging from e-mail lists and local newspaperarticles to preprints of peer-reviewed journal articles – asan important complement to conventional ecologicalmonitoring. The potential of ICT is currently beingexplored in a number of contexts for ecology. Exampleshere range from the Resilience Assessment wiki(http://wiki.resalliance.org), to online datasets such asthose posted by the US National Center for Ecology andAnalysis and Synthesis (www.nceas.ucsb.edu), to the useof the internet to coordinate citizen-science projects(Levitt 2002). In addition, Crowl
et al
. (2008) suggestthe creation of a coordinated “cyber-infrastructure” tofacilitate prompt warnings of invasive alien species andinfectious diseases.Here, we explore the possibilities and limitations of more systematic “data mining” of the internet, and thepotential for obtaining complementary information andearly warnings – not only about discrete ecological events(eg a disease outbreak caused by invasive species), butalso changes in ecological drivers, and the impacts of ecosystem change – to forewarn us of ES losses.
Ecology on the internet
One example of how informal ICT informa-tion can support ecological monitoring is theuse of electronic mailing lists to disseminateand compile field observations trackingglobal-scale coral bleaching during the1997–1998 El Niño event. The existence of an electronic mailing list for coral reef-asso-ciated news proved invaluable for promptassessments of the mass-bleaching event(Hoegh-Guldberg 1999), with reports rang-ing from “detailed accounts with accuratemeasures of bleaching and mortality, to brief anecdotal reports obtained during a rapidsite visit” (Wilkinson 1999; see WebPanel1). Information of this kind can, in princi-ple, be easily associated with participatoryecological monitoring projects or citizen-sci-ence initiatives, provided that they areposted on the internet (see Andrianandra-sana
et al
. [2005] on wetland monitoring inMadagascar and Leach and Scoones [2006] on participa-tory geographic information system “citizen-maps” forhydrological monitoring).One primary difficulty, however, lies in designing mon-itoring systems that are able to scan the internet continu-ously for predefined ecological events and changes thatmight signal emerging ecological vulnerabilities, and sub-sequently integrating that information with existing, offi-cial monitoring data. Although the realization of such asystem is far into the future, innovative uses of webcrawlers (software programs or automated scripts thatbrowse the World Wide Web in a methodical, automatedmanner) are likely to provide an important complementto conventional monitoring in the present. The casestudy we highlight of the live reef fish trade is a clearexample of the problems inherent in relying on officialdata alone, and one where a creative application of inter-net-based information could provide a valuable resource(see Panel 1).The potential of web crawlers is illustrated by the successof the Global Public Health Intelligence Network(GPHIN), an early disease detection system developed byHealth Canada for the World Health Organization(WHO). GPHIN gathers information about unusual dis-ease events by monitoring internet-based global mediasources, such as news wires, web sites, local online newspa-pers, and public health e-mail information services, in eightlanguages, with non-English articles filtered through atranslation engine. The system retrieves approximately2000–3000 news items per day; roughly 30% are rejected asduplicative or irrelevant, but the remainder are sorted byGPHIN analysts and posted on GPHIN’s secure website(Weir and Mykhalovskiy 2006).The ability to trawl extensively for various signals, thewide diversity of information sources, and the ability toidentify alarming early-warning signs seem give the systemthe flexibility and speed needed to detect unexpected
Panel 1. Web crawler
 
s and the live fish tr
 
ade
Globalized markets have become important drivers for fisheries systems,dri-ving rapid development,overexploitation,and collapse of local fisheries,before effective management can be established (Berkes
et al 
.2006).The livereef fish trade (LRFT) supplying seafood to restaurants in Asia is a good exam-ple.This fishery has been characterized by a boom-and-bust pattern of sequential exploitation of reefs and nations,and serial depletion of the mostvaluable species (Scales
et al 
.2006).Although some Pacific Ocean nations have recognized the threat of LRFTand have started to take precautionary actions,coordinated by the Secretariatof the Pacific Community (Sadovy
et al 
.2003),many in other areas,such as theCaribbean and the Western Indian Ocean,have not,and lack of data on thestatus of many small-scale reef fisheries has also been a severe impediment toaction.Socioeconomic and ecological signals,provided by web crawlers,couldpotentially improve early detection of nations and regions at risk of being hitby the next sequential wave of LRFT.Examples of the types of signals thatcould be used include trade advertisements,availability of products by area,prices,number of suppliers,observations by non-state entities,such as envi-ronmental organizations,and newsletters.

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