Thermal Imaging of Beach-Nesting Bird Habitat with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Considerations for Reducing Disturbance and Enhanced Image Accuracy

UNCW Author/Contributor (non-UNCW co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Narcisa Pricope (Creator)
The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW )
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Abstract: Knowledge of temperature variation within and across beach-nesting bird habitat, and how such variation may affect the nesting success and survival of these species, is currently lacking. This type of data is furthermore needed to refine predictions of population changes due to climate change, identify important breeding habitat, and guide habitat restoration efforts. Thermal imagery collected with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) provides a potential approach to fill current knowledge gaps and accomplish these goals. Our research outlines a novel methodology for collecting and implementing active thermal ground control points (GCPs) and assess the accuracy of the resulting imagery using an off-the-shelf commercial fixed-wing UAV that allows for the reconstruction of thermal landscapes at high spatial, temporal, and radiometric resolutions. Additionally, we observed and documented the behavioral responses of beach-nesting birds to UAV flights and modifications made to flight plans or the physical appearance of the UAV to minimize disturbance. We found strong evidence that flying on cloudless days and using sky-blue camouflage greatly reduced disturbance to nesting birds. The incorporation of the novel active thermal GCPs into the processing workflow increased image spatial accuracy an average of 12 m horizontally (mean root mean square error of checkpoints in imagery with and without GCPs was 0.59 m and 23.75 m, respectively). The final thermal indices generated had a ground sampling distance of 25.10 cm and a thermal accuracy of less than 1 °C. This practical approach to collecting highly accurate thermal data for beach-nesting bird habitat while avoiding disturbance is a crucial step towards the continued monitoring and modeling of beach-nesting birds and their habitat.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
thermal imagery, thermal GCPs, unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, habitat imagery, remote sensing, wildlife, colonial nesting waterbirds, anthropogenic disturbance

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