Drones for Animal Tracking

The following are contacts of researchers using (or planning to use) drones for movement ecology studies, and a brief description of what they are doing. To add a description of other projects, please send a summary like the ones below to support@movebank.org.

Kaycee Coleman
Institution: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Study area: Southern New England, Mid-Atlantic Bight (mainly off of New Jersey at the mud hole)
Study species:Pseudopleuronectes americanus (aka. winter flounder, blackback, lemon sole)
Study objective: Work out connectivity between estuaries and shelf habitat to see if there is a resident population in our stock that spawns offshore rather than in estuaries in the winter.
Type of drone: Hydroid REMUS-100 (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) with mounted Lotek Hydrophone
Legal issues: Entering certain countries

I have additionally worked with Slocum gliders which can also be mounted with hydrophones, and both gliders and REMUS have the ability to monitor environmental data with CTD and additional chlorophyll, oxygen, and ADCP sensors. Additionally REMUS can track fish habitat and movement with side scan sonar coupled with a mounted GoPro camera to confirm ID. REMUS has the capabilities to travel faster, turn quicker, and carry high energy sensors but last on the order of hours while gliders are low energy and last weeks at sea.

Justin Fischer
Institution: USDA-APHIS
Study area: USA
Study species: Initially feral swine, but after that it could be any medium-to-large sized mammal (i.e. white-tailed deer, elk, bison)
Study objective: To determine if imagery collected from unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) can be used to detect feral swine rooting damage and assess the ability of UASs at identifying feral swine with either color or thermal infrared cameras by varying altitude of UAS, flight time of day, landscape or habitat composition of survey area, etc.
Type of drone: We don’t have one, but initially plan on collaborating with USGS (Fort Collins, CO) whom have a Raven A and T-Hawk (decommissioned DOD UASs)
Legal issues: Lots in the U.S., but USGS has been down this road before and will provide guidance for us.

Diann Prosser
Institution: USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, MD
Study area: USA
Study species: waterbirds
Study objective: 1) improve estimates of nesting waterbirds (with camera); 2) locate cryptic tern species (with IR camera)
Type of drone: TBD; current UAV purchased by USFWS
Legal issues: questions regarding COA, etc.

Debbie Saunders
Institution: Australian National University
Study area: Australia
Study species: swift parrot and other small species that undertake dynamic movements
Study objective: 1) To develop a small, lightweight readily transportable aerial tracking system that uses robotic technology to search areas rapidly 2) To examine the spatial requirements and movements of Swift Parrots to inform conservation management of the species. Swift parrots use vast landscapes due to the dynamic spatial and temporal variability of their food sources. 3) Apply the robotic search algorithms and miniaturised VHF tracking technology developed for use on swift parrots to provide novel multi-scale insights into the movement patterns of a diversity of small species that move dynamically across the landscape or amongst rugged terrain.
Our system has been tested at flight facilities and we aim to demonstrate it’s use on wild birds in 2014.
Type of drone: The UAV used in our system is the Falcon 8, a commercial eight-rotor platform manufactured by Ascending Technologies. The Falcon 8 is structured around two co-linear sets of four rotors arranged in a ‘V’ shape, where the sensor payload is placed. The maximum take-off weight is 2200g and the maximum payload capacity is 750g. The platform is connected by wireless communication to a mobile ground station, which can accept waypoint commands from an external laptop computer.
Legal issues: One of the main limitations on flight distance is for the ‘pilot’ to always be able to see the drone. Other ethical considerations must also be taken into account (eg proximity to buildings, people, roads etc) and if within a controlled airspace area an application must be submitted in advance to the aviation authority to fly within that area.

Matthias Tobler
Institution: San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research in collaboration with University of California San Diego
Study area: USA, in the future Dominica Republic, Peru, Mexico, Botswana etc.
Study species: iguana, burrowing owls, range of large mammals
Study objective:
1) To obtain accurate locations for species that can only carry VHF transmitters. Many of our species inhabit rugged terrain or areas of dense vegetation where ground tracking is logistically not feasible. We hope to develop a drone-based system that allows us to regularly collect accurate (~50 m error) location data on many individuals over an areas of 5 to 50 km2.
2) To located dropped GPS collars in remote areas or to locate GPS collars for remote data download. We deploy GPS collars with timed drop-off mechanisms or remote download options on several wide-ranging species (jaguars, peccaries, cheetahs). Most of the collars we currently use don’t have a satellite uplink and the only way to locate dropped collars is by airplane which can be expensive and in some cases difficult to organize. We hope to use drones to cover large areas (300 km2) and to locate dropped collars.
Challenges: To develop an automated telemetry system (hardware and software) that can fit on a drone and collect accurate location data. We will be carrying out first field trials this summer.
Type of drone: fixed wing, quad-copter for small-scale uses.
Legal issues: changing regulations in the US, less of an issue in remote areas in other countries.