Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Overlooking the Hudson River in New York State. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Emerging Technologies Aid Conservation and Management

Nifa Authors
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor
Guest Author
National Impact Database Writing Team

Climate change and biodiversity losses pose extraordinary challenges for the sustainability of natural ecosystems and the species that inhabit them.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports research, education and Extension to advance the sustainability of agricultural, forest and range production systems. NIFA uses a variety of programs to support these priorities, including competitive grant programs and capacity funds such as Evans-Allen, McIntire-Stennis, Hatch and Smith-Lever.

Land-grant Universities are developing and applying emerging technologies that can help to more efficiently, accurately and safely monitor, measure and precisely manage these systems with minimal environmental impact.

Here are some examples of NIFA-supported projects.

  • Arkansas Extension worked with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to map and monitor aquatic plant growth using submersible, remote-controlled drones to verify the growth of endangered aquatic vegetation. This will guide future management decisions in restoring the ecosystem of microbes, invertebrates and vertebrates needed to sustain native populations of black bass and crappie. The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff project is supported by 1890 Extension funds. 
  • Washington researchers used unpiloted aerial systems to improve detection and quantification of forest disturbance by collecting fine-scale spectral signatures of tree mortality and disease and damage by wildfire and insects. This provides critical information for forest ecosystem management. The Washington State University project is supported by McIntire-Stennis funds. 
  • Researchers in Tennessee are studying the effects of increased soil temperatures on microbial decomposition of organic matter and amount of carbon dioxide released. In a long-term experiment, they collected data from artificially heated soils to develop simulation models, increasing the accuracy and efficiency of predictions of how soil can retain carbon in a changing climate. This Tennessee State University project is supported by Evans-Allen funds. 
  • Monitoring streamflow under extreme conditions is essential for understanding how environmental stresses affect freshwater ecosystems, but equipment to collect data can be expensive to install and maintain. Arkansas researchers adapted a low-cost system typically used to measure streamflow in human-made waterways to monitor natural channels of smaller watersheds and collect essential data to understand changes in hydrology in natural disturbances like floods and drought. The University of Arkansas project is supported in part by Hatch funds. 
  • Inefficient water usage, including both over- and under-irrigation, can affect production costs and environmental quality as well as crop yield and quality. Researchers in Pennsylvania developed a low-cost, easily implemented, internet-connected automatic irrigation-scheduling system that conserves water while increasing crop production. This Penn State project is supported by Hatch and other USDA competitive funds. 
  • Florida Extension and Master Gardener volunteers augmented physical demonstration gardens by launching a website to share information on the plants that cannot be included on traditional signage. These virtual demonstration gardens give visitors more detailed information about plants and can help gardeners make sustainable decisions about plant selection, establishment and care. They also improve the experience of visitors by being ADA compliant and accessible online. The University of Florida project is supported in part by Smith-Lever (3b&c) and county funds. 
  • Connecticut scientists created a public-facing water quality mapping tool for the Long Island Sound watershed by compiling publicly available water quality data for streams, rivers and groundwater. This interactive map will help multiple audiences understand water quality and make improvements. The University of Connecticut project is supported by Hatch funds. 
  • As part of a Hatch Multistate Research Fund project, several universities have developed tools that can minimize the impact of agrochemicals on the surrounding environment.
    • University of California researchers developed a sensitive fiber that can detect neonicotinoids in the nectar and sap of live, flowering plants.
    • Washington State University scientists developed a low-cost, minimally invasive sensor that can rapidly quantify multiple biomarkers associated with even very low pesticide exposures. 
    • Ohio State University researchers created a simplified way to measure the toxicity of compost samples.
Farm Bill Priority Areas
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment
U.S. States and Territories
New Hampshire

Your feedback is important to us.

Take the Website Survey