Monitoring large and complex wildlife aggregations with drones

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Mitchell Lyons, Kate Brandis, Nick Murray, John Wilshire, Justin McCann, Richard Kingsford, Corey Thomas Callaghan


• 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 ~20,000 to ~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 3 to 8 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 for monitoring large and complex aggregations where ground counts are costly, difficult or not possible. Our framework requires minimal technical ability, is open-source (e.g., Google Earth Engine and R), and generalisable to other surveys



Animal Sciences, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Monitoring, Environmental Sciences, Life Sciences, Ornithology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Research Methods in Life Sciences, Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


aerial vehicle, automated detection, breeding, colonial, ecology, machine learning, modelling, monitoring, remote sensing, waterbird


Published: 2019-01-02 09:48

Last Updated: 2019-01-15 02:53

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