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Environmental science alumna returns to UNT for international research collaboration


Ever since her time at UNT working on her doctorate under Miguel Acevedo, Shiho Matsubayashi has been interested in the ways technology can help environmental scientists understand the world around them and improve conditions in nature to benefit biodiversity. Her passion lies in ornithology, and her doctoral studies utilized remote sensing methods to 3D map natural environments to better understand the habits and habitats of birds.

Matsubayashi completed her PhD at UNT in 2013. Now an associate professor in the Graduate School of Engineering at Osaka University in Japan, she is helping engineers discover new ways to utilize the robotic and AI technology they are developing, specifically for environmental research. This June, Matsubayashi returned to UNT to help researchers here study the painted bunting at the Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area.

While Matsubayashi has received some funding from the Japanese Society of Supporting Science, an organization similar to the National Science Foundation in the United States, she explains that limited resources often require conservation practitioners to be very efficient. The problem lies in conservation practices being designed or implemented without systematic assessment on what actually works or doesn't work and under what conditions.

"Fortunately, there is growing interest in evidence-based decision making," says Matsubayshi. "I am bridging to gap between biology and engineering to build evidence for effective biodiversity conservation programs. I believe it is also important for students in engineering department to understand how cutting edge technology in their lab can be utilized in society to meet our common goal as human beings to promote biodiversity or sustainable use of natural resources."

Her most recent research projects involve a mysterious-looking egg, equipped with eight array microphones that monitor sound in 360 degrees. The data collected illuminates location, species and the numbers of birds in an area, which can help researchers better understand population decline, migration patterns and the progress of restoration efforts.

Earlier this year, Matsubayashi reached out to Jeff Johnson, an associate professor of UNT Biological Sciences, about a potential collaboration using this microphone localization technology to study the painted bunting alongside researchers who are working in active restoration areas at LLELA. She then traveled halfway across the world to take part in the project, remembering fondly her time studying at UNT and the fascinating biodiversity of the area.

UNT's Jim Bednarz and Ken Steigman are part of the team working around the clock with students, volunteers and faculty at LLELA. "It's been great to have Dr. Matsubayashi working with us over the last week," says Bednarz. "We are really excited about comparing the data on painted bunting density from her automated acoustical sampling grid to our data based on a more traditional technique in which we do repeated foot surveys of the locations of singing male buntings."

The fieldwork involved seven microphone eggs total, set up on tripods across the birds' habitat. Sound information derived from those seven eggs will be used to determine the number, species and territory size of each bird. The team hopes to use this information to assess the effects of ongoing restoration efforts at LLELA. The research group already has ideas about future collaboration in regards to sound monitoring and long-term ecosystem impact.

To learn more about LLELA and the conservation projects UNT is involved in, visit www.llela.org