University of Florida scientists are using artificial intelligence (AI) to track feral hogs’ reproduction and how they spread pathogens on Florida’s grazing lands.
Feral pigs cost the agriculture industry at least $1.5 billion in damage, disease, and control costs around the United States annually. They run rampant on large swaths of grazing lands. The swine root in the soil and eat most everything in sight.
“If a foreign animal disease became established in wild pigs in the United States, it would devastate the commercial swine and cattle industry. These foreign diseases are pathogens not found in the United States, but because of the severity of disease and high contagiousness, infected cattle or swine are culled. It would be nearly impossible to rid ourselves of a foreign animal disease if it became established in wild pigs,” said Samantha Wisely, a UF/IFAS professor of wildlife ecology and conservation.
Wild pigs can also cause millions of dollars a year in damage in lost forage and degraded pastures. As they roam grazing land, feral swine carry pathogens that cause multiple cattle diseases, like Brucella.
Wisely will conduct her latest feral pig research at Archbold’s Buck Island Ranch, in southeastern Highlands County. She will collaborate with station researcher Raoul Boughton, who used AI to identify pigs from millions of pictures taken by wildlife cameras. They will use this AI-generated dataset of pictures to track the movements of groups of pigs, called sounders, to predict how pathogens spread from pig to pig.
“The camera array on Buck Island Ranch allows us to monitor many animals over a large area to truly understand population-level responses to animal control, disease transmission, and cattle management,” she said.
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