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New paper live today: Precision wildlife monitoring using unmanned aerial vehicles

March 18, 2016

A project I’ve been working on has finally come to fruitition: the drone paper is now live at Scientific Reports.

drone through flock

Jarrod Hodgson with drone, East Island, Ashmore Reef. Photo: Shane Baylis


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.

We’ve had good press coverage, too: write-ups at New Scientist, the ABC, Australian Popular Science, the Australian Science Media Centre,  and new media requests coming in as I type.

H/t to my co-authors, Jarrod Hodgson, Rowan Mott, Ashley Herrod, and Rohan Clarke.


From → My Papers, Science

  1. Sandy Bartle permalink

    Hi Shane,

    Congratulations, good work. I’ve distributed it to interested parties & also posted it on the PSG listserv so hopefully you will get some feedback.

    I think that currently drones are being used for seabird colony censuses in Alaska & elsewhere.


  2. We need moar blogging! *chant*

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