Joshua G. Cohen receives MSU Extension Innovative Technology Award

Joshua G. Cohen received the MSU Extension Innovative Technology Award during the annual Fall Extension Conference held virtually on Sept. 28.

Joshua G. Cohen is a conservation scientist in the Community, Food, and Environment Institute and Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI).

The control of invasive plant species is critical to maintaining native biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. However, these control activities are labor intensive and costly and require an accurate understanding of where the invasive species occur, which is often in remote locations and difficult terrain.

Joshua worked with Matthew Lewis of Michigan Aerospace Corporation

(MAC) to develop an automated monitoring platform to identify invasive plant species in coastal ecosystems. The project combined cutting-edge technologies, including uncrewed aircraft systems (drones) and neural networks (machine learning software), with ecological knowledge about coastal ecosystems and native and invasive species.

He obtained funding to complete the project from the Office of the Great Lakes, a program within the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The funding was provided through the Coastal Zone Management Program through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The project involved partners from EGLE, multiple divisions of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), MAC, and MNFI, among others.

This project represents a significant advancement in conservation and the first application of this technique anywhere in the state. It is especially significant from the standpoint that it effectively demonstrated the efficacy of the approach to the MDNR and the USFWS, who have now added a significant new tool to their conservation toolbox.

The technology that Josh has spearheaded will allow scientists to conduct ecological surveys on scales that were not before possible. This platform simply could not exist without his knowledge, determination, and enthusiasm. Intellectually flexible, meticulous, and hardworking, Joshua Cohen well deserves the Innovative Technology Award.

The innovative award is awarded to someone who is constantly working towards bettering a project and finding new ways to adapt to a variety of challenges.

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