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SAS helps NatureServe Protect Biodiversity with Artificial Intelligence
Analytics leader celebrates Climate Month by helping NatureServe save endangered species more quickly

As part of its Data for Good efforts, SAS is committed to using technology to ignite positive change for the planet throughout Climate Month this April and all year long. Through its newly formed Social Innovation Division, SAS collaborates with corporate customers, nonprofits and government organizations to uncover ways analytics can accelerate global progress and improve the world, including fighting the climate crisis.

With the world currently facing an unprecedented rate of extinction, SAS has joined forces with NatureServe, an organization focused on protecting biodiversity, to use analytics and AI to measure the degree of imperilment for plants and animals. These assessments are a costly and highly manual process. With SAS, NatureServe will be able to make its assessments more automated and reliable while gaining significant efficiencies and cost savings to the complex task of analyzing over 7 million known species of plants and animals on the Earth.

“With this highly organized, centralized source of insights, our experts can greatly simplify the complex task of assessing the endangered plant and animal species on the Earth,” said Sean O’Brien, President and CEO of NatureServe. "With SAS, we have the potential to set a new global standard on how the world evaluates the condition of biodiversity.” While NatureServe’s species information is currently focused on North America, the advances made by SAS are relevant to assessing species globally and have the potential to revolutionize the pace and accuracy of knowing which species need protection.

With the best biodiversity data in North America, NatureServe turned to SAS employees to help take its data to the next level. To explore new ways to use SAS® technology to help, SAS held its inaugural Social Innovation Summit, where employees gathered for the day to brainstorm and participate in design thinking around NatureServe’s biodiversity conservation effort. The top suggestions from the summit were elevated to SAS research & development teams to turn ideas into reality.

“NatureServe’s conservation mission and their years of meticulous data collection and analysis have fueled a tremendous amount of excitement and innovative thinking among our employees,” said Susan Ellis, SAS Brand Director. “SAS relishes these opportunities to help the planet and humanity. We see first-hand how our software supports organizations like NatureServe in making critical decisions that affect us all. It’s truly powerful.”

Knowing which species are imperiled is half the battle of preventing extinction. NatureServe makes data-driven decisions to determine which species of plants and animals are imperiled. In the face of rapid global climate change, species’ imperilment assessments should be updated at least every five years for the species that are most at risk of extinction. However, the highly complex assessment process requires reviewing multiple sources of scholarly journals along with the variable sources of other data which makes it challenging for scientists to keep pace with changing conditions for species on the ground.

To address this challenge, participants at the summit conceived a text analytics project that would offer NatureServe significant time and cost savings. Through AI and advanced analytics, an R&D team is working on accelerating this manual review process from up to 100 hours per species to possibly just a few. Not only are results achieved faster, but assessments that were previously repeated every five to 10 years can be done more frequently – to better document the extinction crisis and direct conservation action. SAS’ Text Analytics automates the time-intensive review of scholarly journals that provide the latest insights on a specific species while SAS Data Management uses analytics in preparing additional data for analysis. NatureServe can then use the free SAS Visual Analytics viewer to interact with analytic results from all the different sources of analysis such as text, forecasting, geospatial and other systems. 

Working with SAS, the organization efficiently gathers and aggregates spatial data from numerous sources and can now partially automate the process of filtering records and calculating rare species information, such as the location and concentration of populations. In addition to helping visualize collections over a time scale, SAS also checks and flags consistency errors, missing data and uncertainty metrics. In one data set of 85,000 data samples, SAS Analytics helped NatureServe make use of 50,000 data points that would normally have been discarded because of miscoding or missing information.

“Now we can repeat this process for many species on an ongoing basis to get updated information to help prevent extinction,” said O’Brien. “We also get a report of results so that we can document the process to have a better road map for future assessments.”

Learn how SAS is helping to protect endangered species with NatureServe.

About NatureServe
NatureServe is the leader in monitoring biodiversity throughout the Western Hemisphere. To protect threatened biodiversity, NatureServe works with nearly 100 organizations and over 1,000 conservation scientists to collect, aggregate, and standardize biodiversity information, providing comprehensive data to land use decision makers for strategic conservation efforts. NatureServe and its network partners develop and manage the most comprehensive data for over 100,000 species and ecosystems, answering fundamental questions about what exists, where it is found, and how it is doing.

About SAS
SAS is the leader in analytics. Through innovative software and services, SAS empowers and inspires customers around the world to transform data into intelligence. SAS gives you THE POWER TO KNOW®.


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