Responsible AI

How AI is helping local officials protect endangered species in Puerto Rico

Rainforest Connection is helping local groups listen for endangered species and recommend new lands for preservation

Oct 02, 2023 3 min read

Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, Director of Product Impact,

Together with Puerto Rico’s US Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNRA), grantee Rainforest Connection & local partners are using insights from their AI-powered bioacoustic analysis platform to recommend expansion of protected areas on the island.

The stakes

  • 12 million acres of rainforest are destroyed every year, primarily by illegal logging, threatening 1 million species with extinction. (UNEP)
  • Deforestation and forest degradation accounts for 11% of carbon emissions. (UNEP)
  • The world has seen an average 68% drop in mammal, bird, fish, reptile, and amphibian populations since 1970. (WWF)

Rainforest Connection (RFCx) recognized that protecting trees also protects the species that inhabit them. So that’s just what they set out to do.

The backstory

RFCx was initially focused on threat detection to help indigenous communities, local organizations and authorities halt illegal logging and poaching. But with additional funding from and technical support from the Google for Startups Accelerator program, they expanded this technology into a bioacoustic monitoring system called Arbimon.

A man in a backwards baseball cap and a blonde woman with a ponytail lean over a clipboard in a leafy green jungle. The woman takes a photograph of an Arbimon listening device chip with her phone.

How it works

Rainforest Connection and their local partner Para La Naturaleza install Guardian listening devices on trees in the rainforest. These are solar-powered recording devices that are constantly “listening” for animal calls. They record animal sounds – the chirps of birds, the croaks of frogs, and the bellows of monkeys. Arbimon then uses AI to automatically differentiate species. This process used to take scientists 4.5 months, but now takes mere seconds. This unprecedented speed and scale enables ecologists, conservationists, and organizations to make data-driven conservation decisions faster and more effectively.

A gif shows a Guardian listening device, anchored on a tree. Zooming out, there are multiple listening devices. Camera rests on a bird whose call is made visible through soundwaves, which label it as the Elfin-Woods Warbler. We zoom in to observe Arbimon identifying and analyzing soundwaves – identifying multiple animals, instantaneously.
It used to take scientists 4.5 months to identify a single species. Now, with help from AI and bioacoustics, it takes mere seconds.

Case in point

A team of scientists set up listening devices in 944 sites across Puerto Rico, acoustically mapping the entire island. Their goal: learn more about the impact of climate change on the biodiversity there. With the help of the devices and their AI powered systems, they’ve detected and collected over 307k species’ call recordings. And using the Arbimon platform, they discovered something concerning: Several endangered species were living outside protected areas.

Based on their findings, all project partners are working together to recommend that the government purchase new land for protection. These new zones would expand protection for endangered species like the Elfin-woods Warbler and the Mountain Coqui. The Coqui is not only a beloved symbol of home for Puerto Ricans but also a critical part of the island’s ecosystem.

A gif shows the island of Puerto Rico with the current protected areas highlighted in blue. Additional patches of yellow appear, indicating the unprotected areas where Rainforest Connection’s Arbimon system has detected the presence of endangered animals.
We have created the first-ever standardized island-wide maps of biodiversity presence and monitoring using data from across the islands. We seek to use this tool to proactively tackle changes in species distribution, strengthening our ability to fight extinction across this important archipelago.

Miguel A. García-Bermúdez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Impact at scale

To date, RFCx Guardians have collected data from more than 406k hectares of forests across 35 countries and detected 310 near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, & critically endangered species throughout their projects. With their bioacoustic analysis platform, Arbimon, scientists, conservationists, and nature enthusiasts are now able to efficiently identify and monitor species allowing them to gather actionable insights that are simultaneously more impactful and precise than ever before.

Using AI and bioacoustic listening devices, grantee Rainforest Connection and their local partners are listening to the rainforest to protect and preserve these valuable ecosystems.

Using AI and bioacoustic listening devices, grantee Rainforest Connection and their local partners are listening to the rainforest to protect and preserve these valuable ecosystems.

Get involved

Check out Rainforest Connection to learn more about how their data and technology are assisting conservation efforts worldwide. and see how you can help make a difference.

For more about organizations using responsible AI to achieve positive societal impact read Dean Dara Byrne’s OpEd about increasing graduation rates at John Jay College.