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's research plan, I want to investigate how autonomous bio-inspired and bio-mimetic robots could be useful to slow down the decay or even reverse it. It follows a 3 step plan:
Step 1: Monitor ! Apply robot swarms in a sustainable and ecosystem friendly way to monitor endangered and stressed environments. This way anomalies can be detected early and the required valuable data can be gathered in significant amounts to better understand our ecosystems, what is a crucial requirement to protect them. This monitoring needs to be done on large scales (swarms!), in a long-term approach (Autonomy!) and in an ecological pervasive way (Biomimetics!).
Step 2: Intervene ! Given that robots are already monitoring such habitat, they could locally serve as "ecological first responders" in case they detect an anomaly. They can not only detect the anomaly, they can classify it, they can predict its severity and, if necessary, try to preserve and repair until further help arrives or until the crisis is over due to a natural cause.
Step 3: Reconstruct ! In case an ecosystem is already severely damaged, e.g. after a crucial "keystone species" got lost, biomimetic robots could try to reconstruct the ecosystem by rewiring the interaction networks amongst the remaining species, thus become a surrogate keystone species, in order to save the remaining natural species.
Step 1: Monitoring large-scale and long-term (researched in the projects subCULTron and Robocoenosis)
Step 3: Rewiring and reconstructing on the ecosystem level (researched in the projects ASSISIbf, Hiveopolis and RoboRoyale)