Ecosystem Hacking

Our ecosystems are currently collapsing in a rapid way. Climate change is just one out of many factors causing this dystopian ecological disaster into which we are heading with full speed. The decay of ecosystems has many causes, amongst them are habitat reduction, habitat fragmentation, monocultures, over-harvesting of populations, toxication, eutrophication or over-depletion of environmental resources, as well as invasive species and pests, to name just a few stressors that affect earth's ecosystems.

In the novel paradigm of "Ecosystem Hacking", a term that I coined the first time when I was developing the HIVEOPOLIS project research plan, I want to investigate how autonomous bio-inspired and bio-mimetic robots can be effective in slowing down this decay or even reverse it. (read more)

A interaction network diagram showing how biomimetic robots can be embedded in an ecosystem

The key principles of Ecosystem Hacking. Bio-mimetic and bio-inspired robots can be of two basic types: Type #1 robots modulate the ecological effect of a specific focal organism, likely a "keystone species". In contrast to that, type #2 robot create a fundamentally new ecological linkage in the interaction network of the ecosystem from scratch, in order to change its global properties, e.g. ist resilience or robustness.

A diagram showing how a group of surrogate robost can affect a honeybee queen which affects the brood which produces the workforce that pollinates a whole ecosystem

Ecosystem hacking in RoboRoyale: Affecting a few organisms in a honeybee colony can affect, through a cascade of organismic interactions the whole ecosystem around the colony, as the workers have far-reaching and strong ties with many other organisms around it. In the case of honeybees these main effects are on plants, which are the basis of food chains, but also offer shelter and nesting places and building materials for many animals in the ecosystem

Organismic Augmentation

The key idea of Organismic Augmentation is to integrate technological artifacts (devices, robots) into organismic communities. The more these devices blend into the interaction networks that exists between the natural organisms, the deeper this augmentation anchored in the system is. Social insects are especially suitable to be augmented this way, as their social interaction patterns provide already suitable "hooks" that the technological artifacts can use to anchor themselves in these systems. Besides that, social insects have a large ecological impact, due to their large worker populations, due to their role as "keystone species" and due to the sort of centralism they offer, as augmenting one single colony can affect square kilometers or even hundreds of square kilometers of the ecosystem around the colony. (read more)

a group of young honeybees aggregating around a bee robot on a comb

A typical example for Organismic Augmentation: A group of bees was attracted by a ASSISIbf robot, thus local densities of the bees have changed at various places in parallel. Such dynamic heterogeneities can ultimately affect a colony's collective behaviors as a whole.

beekeeping researchers standing behind 3 new (round) hive prototypes of beehives with bees at their entrance

Three prototypes for novel spatial topologies for beehives, tested together with project partners in the EU project Hiveopolis from Bulgaria:

Biohybrid Socialization

The concepts of Ecosystem Hacking and Organismic Augmentation will be useless if no stakeholders pick it up. Thus it is an important aspect of my work to look for ways how the systems can be actually useful for the involved people. As an example, smart beehives alone are today still ordinary boxes with a bunch of sensors inside. But the beehive of the future, that may have a positive ecological effect needs to be radically different to just "boxes". However, the alternative hive shapes and topologies need to be accepted by bee-keepers and bee-breeders in order to enter the markets. Only then our developed technology and our novel methods can have an impact. Thus, the question how we can get our bio-hybrids into our society is the core research question in Biohybrid Socialization. (read more)