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Drones promise to improve ecological monitoring

"It's highly likely that in the future, drones will be used to monitor populations of birds and animals," said ecologist Rohan Clarke.

By
Brooks Hays
An unmanned aerial vehicle counts birds in Australia. Photo by Rohan Clarke/Monash University
An unmanned aerial vehicle counts birds in Australia. Photo by Rohan Clarke/Monash University

MELBOURNE, March 17 (UPI) -- Researchers have already begun using drones for all kinds of ecological monitoring, but until now, scientists hadn't studied their efficacy.

A basic question remained unanswered. Do drone-captured ecological observations compare favorably with those made by human scientists in the field?

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Researchers at Monash University set out to quantify the precision of wildlife surveys conducted by drones.

"Until now, it has been unclear as to how precise drone technology might be when monitoring the size of populations of wildlife," Monash ecologist Rohan Clarke said in a press release. "Our latest research has demonstrated that a very high degree of precision can be achieved when using drone technology to monitor wildlife."

A group of human scientists and a team of drones were deployed to count and monitor colonies of frigatebirds, terns and penguins. Researchers found the counts conducted by drones were more consistent and accurate.

The study -- published in the journal Scientific Reports -- also showed that an aerial view is superior for the purpose counting birds. Researchers also confirmed bird colonies weren't disturbed by hovering drone counters.

"It's highly likely that in the future, drones will be used to monitor populations of birds and animals, especially in inaccessible areas where on the ground surveying is difficult or impossible," Clarke added. "This opens up exciting new possibilities when it comes to more accurately monitoring Earth's ecosystems."

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