Drones enable fast, accurate wildlife counts, study shows

Drones enable fast, accurate wildlife counts, study shows

Jarrod Hodgson is one of very few scientists who have used rubber ducks as part of their Ph.D. research. Hodgson and colleagues at the University of Adelaide compared the accuracy of counts of birds on an Australian beach from images taken from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to counts by ground observers. They brought in the ducks to serve as faux seabird colonies, each with a known number of individuals. The University of Adelaide research team’s experimental site, filmed from the UAV. A “colony” of rubber ducks, posing as greater crested terns, is in the foreground at left. Ground counters, researchers, and other volunteers are scattered behind. Copyright: Jarrod Hodgson Their findings, published this week in the journal Methods of Ecology and Evolution, suggest that aerial imagery can offer scientists more accurate counts of at least some species than even experienced observers on the ground. Image vs. in-person observations UAV-derived imagery is increasingly being used to survey and monitor wildlife, including detecting and monitoring individual koalas and surveying orangutan and chimpanzee nests, but few researchers have tested the accuracy of UAV-based data collection relative to other, traditional methods. Counting birds and other colonial species from the ground is liable to miss some animals and double-count others. It also requires experts to invest time visiting a site, sometimes repeatedly, to collect the data, and their presence may scare or alter the behavior of the animals they are trying to study. Thus the drones and the ducks. The researchers simulated 10 breeding…

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