New Study Reveals Drones Can Monitor Forest Restoration Progress

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As drones become the talk of the decade, scientists are busy evaluating just what they can use these babies for. The possibilities are countless. We’ve seen gaming, and we’ve seen medicine, and now we are seeing forest conservation!

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Dr. Leighton Reid at the Missouri Botanical Garden Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development has been studying the tropical forests of southern Costa Rica with drones for the last two years and his team’s latest study reveals that unmanned aerial vehicles can adequately monitor not just physical data about forest restoration progress, but also above ground biomass without any of the hassle involved in manual data collection.

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Monitoring work is beneficial to judge viability of techniques applied to the restoration of tropical forests. So far, manual techniques have been in use, but isn’t manual so last century? Manual data collection in forests equals wide spread traveling, sweat and insect bites. Yikes! All hail automation!

To automate the process, Dr. Reid researched with UAVs to collect data and study it using an ecological software called Ecosynth. Apart from the intended results, the study reveals that certain unintended yet positive consequences of the monitoring process can also calculate carbon accumulation in regenerating forests.

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Reid’s UAVs came back with accurate forest structures and infopacks on canopy height and canopy gaps, that help predict movements of fruit eating birds vital for seed transfer, and an estimate of the above ground biomass. Matched with the manually collected data, the information comes in closer than initially theorized, and the team hit the jackpot with workable numbers on carbon accumulation.

Reid’s drones are hexacopters with a consumer grade digital camera as their weapon. Images taken via these drones were ingredients for Ecosynth to create a 3 dimensional ‘point cloud’ forest model that mimics real time vegetation structure at high spatial resolutions. Professionals in the field of forestry are speaking about the possible application of UAVs for restoration data collection and the study was recently published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Drones Study Forests (1)The study opens future avenues for research in forestry and conservation initiatives. The methods and means used for monitoring reforestation data are equally applicable to the collection of other information relevant to study of forest dynamics and recovery when paired with field-based calibration plots. The study will be available for a free download by August this year.

Source: IUCN