Preventative Healthcare for Ecosystems

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Topcoder and YERC (Yellowstone Ecological Research Center) are partnering to build a platform to monitor, understand, and improve the health of our planet’s ecosystems. We want you to be a part of this Crowd for Good initiative.

Come share your skills, experience, and help us build the EPIIC platform while using the latest technology and approaches to have a positive impact on the world around you. As you participate, you will also gain a better understanding and appreciation of the wonder and intricacies of our planet’s ecosystems while making a difference.


Wildlife and wild ecosystems around the world are facing unprecedented challenges due to natural and human-related environmental changes. As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and average oceanic and surface air temperatures climb, ecological scientists believe that there are approximately 1 million species currently on the brink of extinction. By some estimates, about half of the area of key natural ecosystems has already been lost.

Healthy ecosystems are the foundation of all civilization and necessary for sustaining our economies–and the health of our families and friends. They clean our water, renew our soil, purify the air we breathe, and provide us with food. At both a micro and macro level, the well-being of humanity is dependent on the ecological health of the planet.

The problem we are faced with is a serious one, and it is made much more difficult by data limitations: key data do not exist and what does exist is often inaccessible or is not interoperable. Consequently, this negates robust ecosystem modeling that could be used to drive policy decisions, inform corporate actions, and stir public consciousness. Furthermore, what models are generated are deficient (biased) and are rarely evaluated properly with standardized monitoring which iteratively improves model certainty while evaluating and validating model predictions. Even though we have the will and the technology to solve data limitations and conduct monitoring, competition for scarce funding and “us vs. them” social polarization makes it difficult to come together, put that technology to work, and tackle these problems head on.


Enter the Yellowstone Ecological Research Center (YERC)—Since 1993, YERC has conducted research in and around Yellowstone National Park on an ecologically diverse set of projects. Building on the projects and ecological expertise from nearly 3 decades of Adaptive Ecology work, YERC has turned its attention toward building a global platform to provide timely, quality, and science-based data, made publicly available and accessible.

The end goal is this to enable preventative healthcare for our planet’s ecosystems by providing tools to diagnose and keep them healthy.

This platform, titled EPIIC (Ecosystem Prognosis, Impacts, and Information Cooperative), will be an open source, collaborative effort built on scalable, cloud-based services, to be used by people around the world to help ecosystems around the world in need of protection and restoration. For this initiative to succeed, it will require lots of data in a timely manner, a robust cloud-based infrastructure, and enthusiastic users of the data who will participate in modeling complex ecological systems. YERC’s approach to all three is a cooperative one: harnessing the power and potential of the crowd.

Community-Sourced Data

To gather data, YERC has honed a community science based approach in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As sensors become more readily available and affordable than ever before, there is an opportunity to further democratize the process of data gathering and to generate a place for networked natural ecosystems within the “Internet of Everything”—where networked sensors, dynamically measuring the state of ecosystems, will enable us to diagnose, prevent, or mitigate the effects of problems with data-driven insights.

The monitoring and forecasting systems that have come out of these community science cooperatives so far in Yellowstone are focused on rivers, landscapes, and wildlife. At their core, these programs rely on decentralization of funding, sharing of labor and responsibilities among ecosystem stakeholders, and mutual accountability. YERC describes their approach this way:

Beyond citizen science, a community science cooperative means that all stakeholders in a community bear witness to the collection and dissemination of data…In community science, complementary roles are aligned in producing transparent and unbiased data. This transparency and cooperation builds trust, which allows for data to become useful information to then be applied to conservation problems before they become entrenched conflicts. Trusted, scientific information, available in a timely manner, should be preventative as well as the final arbiter.

This video tells the story of how RiverNET, the community science cooperative-driven program was designed by centering on key pressing issues and specific use-cases of the Yellowstone River watershed to solve problems simultaneously for humans and the natural resources they rely upon. Thus, community health is extended to all species. Collectively our monitoring, data sharing and modeling approaches will create a preventative approach similar to preventative healthcare in humans, and save money while increasing profit margins and the intrinsic wealth of nature. Healthcare for all species.

Making the Data and Models Accessible: the EPIIC Platform Infrastructure

The EPIIC platform itself will help catalyze the effort to provide preventative care to ecosystems by bringing together data from disparate sources and making it accessible for building insight-generating models to drive better decisions. It will incorporate both publicly available data sets and community science data sources from around the world, beginning with those from Yellowstone. After the initial processing is complete, datasets will be made available to all on the Amphora Data exchange and shareable in real-time with collaborators.

By making the combined data accessible to all, the value for community science stakeholders and data scientists alike rises—with larger, stronger datasets there is, after all, a higher likelihood of gaining the type of understanding and predictive capabilities that are valuable to the broad range of potential interests, whether commercial, environmental, or technical in nature. Just like weather forecasting, we can pioneer ecological forecasting for our own ecosystems. Collectively, this further incentivizes data collection and investment to make the platform a more attractive destination for ecological data and all their high-potential applications.

Just as the generation of high quality datasets relied on cooperative efforts of community science supporters, the building of the EPIIC platform will rely on the passionate technologists that make up the Topcoder community. This crowd-driven approach to everything from the core, underlying infrastructure to API access and visualization tools will make use of the incredible talent that the Topcoder community displays on a regular basis, in support of this important cause.

Making Use of the Data: Modeling Complex Systems

With large, high-quality ecological data sets made accessible, the real fun then begins! As the data is made available on the EPIIC platform, an extensive array of tools can be used to analyze, transform, and/or amplify the data. Resultant models can be shared with collaborators and made available to others to improve upon or adapt to their needs.

The possibilities for breakthroughs are enormous!. To date, nowhere else has the quantity and quality of ecological data to be found on EPIIC, available to the public, to produce models for as important of a cause as preventative care for our planet’s fragile ecosystems. Ecosystems are complex, beautiful things that can be very difficult to model accurately. Models for things like species succession, climate change simulation, resource management, and wildlife population dynamics will make it possible, in many cases, to avoid ecological collapse and in others to mitigate some of the most harmful effects of ecological degradation.

In keeping with the cooperative approaches that make EPIIC’s data generation and platform build possible, the curation and experimentation with analytical and simulatory models will depend on the enthusiastic participation of a community of individuals who take up the cause of preventative care for our planet’s ecosystems.

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We Need Your Help!

We—all of humanity—need your help. Preventative care for the planet’s ecosystems is vital to us all, for present and future generations.

We—Topcoder and YERC—need your help. This Crowd for Good partnership is dependent on individuals who will use their talent and knowledge for the greater good. The EPIIC platform will only be as strong as the effort and passion that goes into building it and using it. And there is no better place to build this platform than the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem that includes the World’s first National Park and Forest Reserve! The public lands—parks, wilderness, and wildlife refuges—of this international treasure are yours. With your stewardship we will catapult the Yellowstone EPIIC platform to be used worldwide.

In the coming weeks we will release further details on the roadmap, plans, and needs of the Preventative [Health] Care for Ecosystems initiative. We hope that you’ll join us to make a difference.