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June 6, 2023

Spartans join indigenous forest protectors on XPRIZE Rainforest biodiversity quest

Saving the rainforest, biodiversity, and in the process, the planet, is often framed as a high-stakes race.

Now that race has a timetable, a $10 million prize, and ACTNOW Amazonas Action Alliance, a high-powered women-led multidisciplinary team of Michigan State University experts collaborating with innovators, indigenous rainforest protectors, and a dedicated film crew, who together are semifinalists for the XPRIZE Rainforest.

The XPRIZE Rainforest, sometimes called the Olympics of Science, is a global competition aiming to enhance the world’s understanding of the rainforest ecosystems to protect it. Michigan State University has deployed faculty, staff and graduate and undergraduate students who are biologists, engineers, computer scientists, geographers, information technologists and anthropologists. They bring sweeping expertise in social justice, biodiversity, climate change, plants, animals, robotics, genomics, landscape ecology, wrangling and analyzing big data.

The XPRIZE Rainforest will accelerate the innovation of autonomous technologies needed for biodiversity assessment and will enhance understanding of rainforest ecosystems by using rapid data integration to provide new wisdom about the forest as well as inspire new investment and exploration. The XPRIZE Rainforest intends to reveal the true potential of the standing forest, accelerating the development of new, just, and sustainable bioeconomies.From an original 300 teams, 13 teams of semifinalists are competing in Singapore the first two weeks of June, each assigned to a 100-hectacre plot of dense jungle.

The task: with only 24 hours to collect data and 48 hours to analyze those data, identify as many species in the plant and animal kingdom as possible. The hitch: no humans can set foot inside the forest plot.

“This is supersized science and a chance to showcase our Spartan innovation and expertise – to quickly gain an understanding of what lives in such an important ecosystem,” said Phoebe Zarnetske, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology in the College of Natural Science and director of the MSU Institute for Biodiversity, Ecology, Evolution, and Macrosystems, who is the scientific lead for the XPRIZE Rainforest ACTNOW Amazonas team. 

To read more, visit the College of Natural Science website.

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