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article imageDrones used for ecological modelling

By Tim Sandle     Apr 6, 2016 in Environment
A new study has concluded that drones are much more accurate for monitoring the size of seabird colonies in tropical and polar environments. This could lead to a wider application of drones for ecological research.
The use of drones (or “unmanned aerial vehicles”) formed part of a study into the size of seabird colonies in tropical and polar environments. A comparison of ground level counting of seabirds revealed that the drones are far more accurate.
For the comparison, scientists undertook drone-captured image counts and matched those with counts made around the same time by people on the ground. Counts were made for colonies of three types of seabird: frigatebirds, terns and penguins. The drone images were around 10 percent more accurate than those made by the personnel on the ground. The drones were powered by lithium-polymer batteries and contained advanced digital imaging cameras with small computers.
The counting tests were carried out at Ashmore Reef (tropical) and Macquarie Island (Sub-Antarctic). The Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands is an uninhabited external territory of Australia consisting of four low-lying tropical islands in two separate reefs. Here there are five species of breeding terns, with several other seabirds, including petrels, recorded in the surrounding waters. Macquarie Island lies in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about half-way between New Zealand and Antarctica. Interestingly, the island hosts the entire royal penguin population during their annual nesting season.
The reason that the drones produced better results is due to the advantages of aerial tracking and the ability to manoeuvre the drones into hard to reach locations. Speaking with Laboratory Roots, Monash ecologist Dr Rohan Clarke outlined how drones are particularly useful at detecting canopy-nesting birds.
Here he added how effective the use of drones has turned out to be: “Until now, it has been unclear as to how precise drone technology might be when monitoring the size of populations of wildlife. Our latest research has demonstrated that a very high degree of precision can be achieved when using drone technology to monitor wildlife.”
The study was carried out at Monash University and the outcome has been reported to the journal Scientific Reports. The research paper is titled “Precision wildlife monitoring using unmanned aerial vehicles.”
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