Impending Insect Wipeout: How IoT Is Saving the Environment

In the face of massive insect population decline, here are three ways IoT can save the environment and help reverse the imminent extinction.

You don’t need to be an environmentalist to know that our world is on the verge of an ecosystem crisis. For the last few weeks, media has reported startling rates of decline in the global insect population. According to a recent scientific review, more than 40% of insect species are disappearing worldwide with one third being particularly endangered. The total number of insects is plummeting by 2.5% annually, eight times faster than mammals, bird or reptiles. Among the most affected are bees, butterflies, dragonflies and beetles. If this trend continues, they could completely die out within a century.

With insects accounting for two-thirds of total earth species, this wipeout would have a devastating impact on our planet. These tiny creatures are an integral part of the ecological food chain; they pollinate three-fourth of the world’s crops, replenish soils and control the pest population. Their extinction will most likely result in a disastrous collapse of our natural ecosystem.

The loss of habitat resulting from deforestation, urbanization and intensive agriculture is the leading attributable factor for massive insect decline. Coming next is the increasing use of pesticides and fertilizers that lead to contamination and soil acidification. While we can’t stop all of these activities at once, controlling and minimizing them to the largest extent is critical in helping reverse the imminent catastrophe. Thankfully advanced technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) are powerful allies in this journey. Here are 3 examples of how IoT is saving the environment.

1. Maintain Biodiversity and Prevent Illegal Deforestation

Strictly regulating deforestation and preventing illegal logging are the most important measures to protect biodiversity and the remaining natural habitat for insects. Nevertheless, poor management practices of preserved national parks and wild forests, given their massive scale and constrained ranger resources, is alarming. LPWAN-enabled alert systems can connect massive, geographically distributed ultrasonic, infrared and vibration sensors attached to the trees. These sensors constantly listen for the sound and movement of chainsaws, trucks and other logging equipment in unauthorized zones.

A cloud platform with built-in intelligence analyzes sensor data for surreptitious logging and can trigger automatic alerts when suspicious events arise. This allows for monitoring and circumventing illegal activities in real-time while eliminating manually intensive tasks like patrolling. Minimizing deforestation not only contributes to sustaining biodiversity, but also helps curb global carbon emission and slow down global warming in the long run.

2. Optimize Agricultural Practices and Cut Down on Chemical Use

While we’ve mostly discussed the negative impacts of pesticides and insecticide on human health, they are already killing non-target insects on a vast scale. When it comes to agricultural best practices, the key is to control, not eradicate pests. Wiping out the entire pest population on a farm is almost impossible and can cause significant financial and safety costs. Similarly, excessive use of fertilizers can diminish crop health while causing severe environmental and health issues.

Thankfully, precision farming, with the advent of IoT, now helps farmers use agricultural chemicals in the most efficient manner possible. Inexpensive, low-power smart sensors can connect traps and listen to pest sounds to report pest levels in different field areas. Likewise, they can capture data about soil and crop health alongside weather conditions on granular field zones.

Leveraging this information, farmers can make strategic decisions on when their crops need spraying (e.g. only after pest levels surpass the set limit). Additionally, variable-rate application, which aligns spraying rates with the need of specific field sections, can be executed to optimize chemical use. Sensor data on pest counts also facilitates effective application of pheromones – a sustainable alternative to pesticides. Taking a step further, machine learning algorithms continuously analyze historical data on chemical use and crop yields to suggest how farmers can better reduce waste and improve their farming practices over time.

3. Save the Bees, One Hive at A Time

Bees are among, if not the most important pollinators for our crops. Sadly, they are undergoing a critical Colony Collapse Disorder that has been escalating over the years. In the US alone, honeybee keepers lost 44% of colonies in 2016 and if nothing is done, we will lose the entire honeybee population by 2035.

IoT is now giving rise to innovative solutions that enable beekeepers to remotely monitor their hive conditions round-the-clock – whether at night, in the winter or during extreme weather. Battery-powered in-hive sensors provide temperature, humidity, acoustic and even odor readings that demonstrate bees’ health and activities. Additionally, tracking hive weight can help calculate the amount of nectar gathered and predict whether the bees could experience food scarcity in the winter. As such IoT data helps beekeepers identify unusual patterns in real-time for early intervention to prevent large-scale colony losses.

As IoT offers more opportunities to save the environment, LPWANs provides the versatile backbone connectivity needed to fully realize such opportunities. These networks outweigh alternative wireless options in critical criteria like costs, battery life, range and ease of installation and management. This in turn helps reduce adoption barriers to innovative solutions mentioned above. Combined with tighter environmental regulations and organic alternatives to pesticides, IoT and LPWAN promise to benefit global insects and our biodiversity in enormous ways.

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