Israeli researchers have unveiled a first-of-its-kind radar that can accurately detect the size and direction of insect swarms to help forewarn farmers and save crops.
The insect radar, created at the University of Haifa, has been installed near the Agamon Hula nature reserve in Israel’s far north, near the Golan Heights.
Understanding swarm behaviour has been a field of study for decades but estimating the number of individuals within a swarm has been difficult, with some locust swarms estimated to hold up to a billion members.
“This is the only radar capable of providing comprehensive information about the movement of insects in the air,” said the University’s Prof Nir Sapir. “We will be able to measure the flow of insects that migrate in huge numbers for much of the year.”
He added that researchers would also be able to “identify pollinating insects that are of great importance for wild plants and agriculture, as well as other insects that cause damage to agriculture, such as various species of moths”.
One such moth is the Fall Armyworm, an invasive species originally from South America. It arrived in Israel recently and is one of the most harmful in the world, able to damage more than 350 species of plants.
The crop worst affected by the Fall Armyworm larvae is maize, said Sapir. Together with international peers, they have begun using the radar “in order to understand the movement of these moths, as a first step toward controlling their spread”.
The device will allow researchers to estimate the density, direction and speed of migration, elevation, and body size of the insects, and to assess factors influencing the insects that fly in this area.
With data on size, flight speed, wing movement pattern, and body shape, the team plans to apply a classification tool based on teaching the machine to identify groups of insects – and later specific species – with the help of the radar.
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