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Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Micro-Uavs, Drones) in Plant Ecology

Cruzan, Mitchell B., Weinstein, Ben G., Grasty, Monica R., Kohrn, Brendan F., Hendrickson, Elizabeth C., Arredondo, Tina M., Thompson, Pamela G.
Applications in plant sciences 2016 v.4 no.9
aerial photography, habitats, models, plant ecology, surveys, unmanned aerial vehicles, vegetation
Premise of the study: Low-elevation surveys with small aerial drones (micro–unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs]) may be used for a wide variety of applications in plant ecology, including mapping vegetation over small- to medium-sized regions. We provide an overview of methods and procedures for conducting surveys and illustrate some of these applications.Methods: Aerial images were obtained by flying a small drone along transects over the area of interest. Images were used to create a composite image (orthomosaic) and a digital surface model (DSM). Vegetation classification was conducted manually and using an automated routine. Coverage of an individual species was estimated from aerial images.Results: We created a vegetation map for the entire region from the orthomosaic and DSM, and mapped the density of one species. Comparison of our manual and automated habitat classification confirmed that our mapping methods were accurate. A species with high contrast to the background matrix allowed adequate estimate of its coverage.Discussion: The example surveys demonstrate that small aerial drones are capable of gathering large amounts of information on the distribution of vegetation and individual species with minimal impact to sensitive habitats. Low-elevation aerial surveys have potential for a wide range of applications in plant ecology.