University of Vermont

Department of Computer Science

UVM student creates software to monitor wildlife in Costa Rica

Release Date: 07-20-2009

Author: Dawn Densmore
Email: Dawn.Densmore@uvm.edu

Computer Science student
Anthony Sweet in Costa RicaCosta Rica is the focus for one UVM student, Anthony Sweet, a soon-to-be-sophomore majoring in computer science in UVM's College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences (CEMS). This past spring Sweet joined forces with graduate students from the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and created a computer database program to monitor wildlife in that Central American country.

Sweet and his fellow students were enrolled in Integrated Conservation Monitoring, a service-learning course taught by Associate Professor Terri Donovan of the Rubenstein School. In the course, students work with conservation organizations in Costa Rica that are attempting to reforest the Pacific slope habitat. In the 1960-70s, Costa Rica had one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. The goal of reforesting these areas is to protect biodiversity.

Professor Donovan got the idea for the course from attending a Change the World Kids fundraiser where the featured speaker was Deb Hamilton, leader of the Costa Rica reforestation effort. Donovan contacted longtime collaborator Robert Erickson, senior lecturer in the Computer Science Department, to help with the database and web aspects of the project.

Sweet played a major role in designing the software now being used by the conservation organizations. The web-based database allows biologists to record and track information on both wildlife and people's views and attitudes about the restoration project as it unfolds. The software will be used in the future to teach conservation monitoring and to analyze trends in wildlife populations over time. The database provides one centralized repository of information that can be accessed by multiple users, including students enrolled in the Integrated Conservation Monitoring course, which will be offered every other year.

"Anthony has provided a huge service in creating this web site and database," says Donovan.

For his part, Sweet was thrilled with the opportunity. "The trip to Costa Rica was great!" he says. "I utilized and practiced the skills I learned in my computer science courses at UVM to get real-life experience as well as a full-time job." Sweet is currently working with Professor Donovan on other projects over the summer.