Fine-tuning of unmanned aerial surveillance for ecological systems

Baxter, P.W.J. & Hamilton, G. (2015) Fine-tuning of unmanned aerial surveillance for ecological systems. In Weber, T., McPhee, M.J., & Anderssen, R.S. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 21st International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM2015), Gold Coast, Qld, pp. 1393-1398.

View at publisher (open access)


Much of our understanding and management of ecological processes requires knowledge of the distribution and abundance of species. Reliable abundance or density estimates are essential for managing both threatened and invasive populations, yet are often challenging to obtain. Recent and emerging technological advances, particularly in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), provide exciting opportunities to overcome these challenges in ecological surveillance. UAVs can provide automated, cost-effective surveillance and offer repeat surveys for pest incursions at an invasion front. They can capitalise on manoeuvrability and advanced imagery options to detect species that are cryptic due to behaviour, life-history or inaccessible habitat. UAVs may also cause less disturbance, in magnitude and duration, for sensitive fauna than other survey methods such as transect counting by humans or sniffer dogs.

The surveillance approach depends upon the particular ecological context and the objective. For example, animal, plant and microbial target species differ in their movement, spread and observability. Lag-times may exist between a pest species presence at a site and its detectability, prompting a need for repeat surveys. Operationally, however, the frequency and coverage of UAV surveys may be limited by financial and other constraints, leading to errors in estimating species occurrence or density.

We use simulation modelling to investigate how movement ecology should influence fine-scale decisions regarding ecological surveillance using UAVs. Movement and dispersal parameter choices allow contrasts between locally mobile but slow-dispersing populations, and species that are locally more static but invasive at the landscape scale.

We find that low and slow UAV flights may offer the best monitoring strategy to predict local population densities in transects, but that the consequent reduction in overall area sampled may sacrifice the ability to reliably predict regional population density. Alternative flight plans may perform better, but this is also dependent on movement ecology and the magnitude of relative detection errors for different flight choices.

Simulated investigations such as this will become increasingly useful to reveal how spatio-temporal extent and resolution of UAV monitoring should be adjusted to reduce observation errors and thus provide better population estimates, maximising the efficacy and efficiency of unmanned aerial surveys.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

32 since deposited on 14 Mar 2016
32 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 93018
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Surveillance, Probability of detection, Weed, Pathogen, Mammal
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES (050000) > ECOLOGICAL APPLICATIONS (050100)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Earth, Environmental & Biological Sciences
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2015 [please consult the author]
Deposited On: 14 Mar 2016 01:51
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2016 23:01

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page