Monitoring large and complex wildlife aggregations with drones

Lyons, Mitchell B., Brandis, Kate J., Murray, Nicholas J., Wilshire, John H., McCann, Justin A., Kingsford, Richard T., and Callaghan, Corey T. (2019) Monitoring large and complex wildlife aggregations with drones. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 10 (7). pp. 1024-1035.

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Recent advances in drone technology have rapidly led to their use for monitoring and managing wildlife populations but a broad and generalised framework for their application to complex wildlife aggregations is still lacking. We present a generalised semi-automated approach where machine learning can map targets of interest in drone imagery, supported by predictive modelling for estimating wildlife aggregation populations. We demonstrated this application on four large spatially complex breeding waterbird colonies on floodplains, ranging from c. 20,000 to c. 250,000 birds, providing estimates of bird nests. Our mapping and modelling approach was applicable to all four colonies, without any modification, effectively dealing with variation in nest size, shape, colour and density and considerable background variation (vegetation, water, sand, soil, etc.). Our semi-automated approach was between three and eight times faster than manually counting nests from imagery at the same level of accuracy. This approach is a significant improvement for monitoring large and complex aggregations of wildlife, offering an innovative solution where ground counts are costly, difficult or not possible. Our framework requires minimal technical ability, is open-source (Google Earth Engine and R), and easy to apply to other surveys.

Item ID: 60281
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2041-210X
Keywords: aerial vehicle, automated detection, bird, breeding, colonial, ecology, machine learning, waterbird
Copyright Information: © 2019 The Authors. Methods in Ecology and Evolution © 2019 British Ecological Society
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage (NSWOEH), Bush Heritage Australia
Projects and Grants: ARC LP150100972
Date Deposited: 22 Sep 2019 23:48
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050206 Environmental Monitoring @ 60%
09 ENGINEERING > 0909 Geomatic Engineering > 090905 Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing @ 40%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960501 Ecosystem Assessment and Management at Regional or Larger Scales @ 70%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960807 Fresh, Ground and Surface Water Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 30%
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