New paper live today: Precision wildlife monitoring using unmanned aerial vehicles
A project I’ve been working on has finally come to fruitition: the drone paper is now live at Scientific Reports.
In it, we show that counts of seabird colonies taken from drone imagery are dramatically more precise than counts of colonial seabirds taken by traditional methods (i.e., counting colonies using a spotting scope), across three species (Lesser Frigatebird, Crested Tern, and Royal Penguin), in environments in the tropical Indian Ocean and subantarctic Macquarie Island.
Given that drones are highly portable and their price is dropping rapidly, drones seem likely to dominate colonial-animal population-counting in the future, replacing traditional ground-based counting in many projects. For long-running colony-monitoring projects that choose to change their approach, there will be a transition to manage here: our project found that drone-counts can give a larger average colony-count than ground-based counts, and the amount of difference between drone-counts and ground-counts can be different between species.
So, we suggest a method to determine whether drones under-count or over-count a new species relative to ground-counts, and if so, by how much. Importantly, we also show how many times a research group will have to double-count (i.e., count using both drones and traditional techniques) in order to make the two types of data comparable at a given level of precision.