Drones revolutionize ecological monitoring

March 17, 2016, Monash University
UAV in flight. Credit: Rohan Clarke

New Monash University research has paved the way for drones to revolutionise ecological monitoring.

Published today in the journal Scientific Reports, the research found that drones are much more precise at monitoring the size of seabird colonies in tropical and polar environments than more traditional ground counts. Carried out on Ashmore Reef (tropical) and Macquarie Island (Sub-Antarctic), the research found that the ever-increasing precision provided by drones, along with the ability to survey hard-to-reach populations, may mean that wildlife monitoring projects move from traditional methods to technology.

Monash ecologist Dr Rohan Clarke explained that drones have already been used to monitor everything from the breeding success of canopy-nesting and to surveying elephants but nobody had yet tested if this method was better than more traditional survey techniques.

"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," Dr Clarke said.

Ecologist Jarrod Hodgson prepares to launch a fixed-wing Conservation Drone on Australia's remote sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island for wildlife monitoring. Credit: Jarrod Hodgson

Lead author Jarrod Hodgson, who carried out the research while at Monash (and who is now at the University of Adelaide), explained how the research compared drone derived image counts with those made by humans on the ground.

"Our team compared the precision of drone-derived image counts with those made at the same time by human counters on the ground for colonies of three types of seabird: frigatebirds, terns and penguins. Counters also monitored the colonies during the drone flights for signs that the birds may be startled by the presence of the drone," Mr Hodgson said.

The authors found that counts using images captured by drones did not startle the birds and were consistently more similar than those taken from the ground. The authors suggest that the down-facing perspective of drone imagery reduces the likelihood of missing seabirds. In contrast, when counting from the ground, the terrain and other birds obscure the counters' line of sight.

Dr Clarke explained the significance of these research findings to ecological monitoring projects.

"It's highly likely that in the future, drones will be used to monitor populations of birds and animals, especially in inaccessible areas where on the ground surveying is difficult or impossible. This opens up exciting new possibilities when it comes to more accurately Earth's ecosystems," Dr Clarke said.

Explore further: Dutch police use real eagles to counter drones

More information: Jarrod C. Hodgson et al. Precision wildlife monitoring using unmanned aerial vehicles, Scientific Reports (2016). DOI: 10.1038/SREP22574

Related Stories

Dutch police use real eagles to counter drones

February 3, 2016

Dutch police are turning to a phalanx of winged predators to solve the problem of unauthorised drone flights in restricted areas such as airports and over crowds: eagles.

Recommended for you

World's biggest battery in Australia to trump Musk's

March 16, 2018

British billionaire businessman Sanjeev Gupta will built the world's biggest battery in South Australia, officials said Friday, overtaking US star entrepreneur Elon Musk's project in the same state last year.

1 in 3 Michigan workers tested opened fake 'phishing' email

March 16, 2018

Michigan auditors who conducted a fake "phishing" attack on 5,000 randomly selected state employees said Friday that nearly one-third opened the email, a quarter clicked on the link and almost one-fifth entered their user ...

Origami-inspired self-locking foldable robotic arm

March 15, 2018

A research team of Seoul National University led by Professor Kyu-Jin Cho has developed an origami-inspired robotic arm that is foldable, self-assembling and also highly-rigid. (The researchers include Suk-Jun Kim, Dae-Young ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.