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Drones 2019, 3(1), 28; https://doi.org/10.3390/drones3010028

Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Survey Mesocarnivores

1
Louisiana State University AgCenter, 312 Renewable Natural Resources Building, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA
2
Delta Waterfowl Foundation, 1312 Basin Avenue, Bismarck, ND 58504, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 26 February 2019 / Revised: 19 March 2019 / Accepted: 20 March 2019 / Published: 22 March 2019
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Abstract

With the widespread extirpation of top predators over the past two centuries, mesocarnivores play an increasingly important role in structuring terrestrial trophic webs. However, mesocarnivores are difficult to survey at a population level because their widely spaced territories and nocturnal behavior result in low detection probability. Existing field survey techniques such as track plates and motion-sensitive camera traps are time-consuming and expensive, and yet still yield data prone to systematic errors. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have recently emerged as a new tool for conducting population surveys on a wide variety of wildlife, eclipsing the efficiency and even accuracy of traditional methods. We used a UAV equipped with a thermal imaging camera to conduct nighttime mesocarnivore surveys in the prairie pothole region of southern Manitoba, Canada. This was part of a much larger ecological study evaluating how lethal removal of mesocarnivores affects duck nest success. Here, our objective was to describe methods and equipment that were successful in detecting mesocarnivores. We used a modified point-count survey from six waypoints that surveyed a spatial extent of 29.5 ha. We conducted a total of 200 flights over 53 survey nights during which we detected 32 mesocarnivores of eight different species. Given the large home ranges of mesocarnivores relative to the spatial and temporal scale of our spot sampling approach, results of these types of point-count surveys should be considered estimates of minimum abundance and not a population census. However, more frequent sampling and advanced statistics could be used to formally estimate population occupancy and abundance. UAV-mounted thermal imaging cameras appear to be an effective tool for conducting nocturnal population surveys on mesocarnivores at a moderate spatial scale. View Full-Text
Keywords: coyote; drone; prairie; point count; fox; skunk; survey; thermal imaging coyote; drone; prairie; point count; fox; skunk; survey; thermal imaging
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Bushaw, J.D.; Ringelman, K.M.; Rohwer, F.C. Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Survey Mesocarnivores. Drones 2019, 3, 28.

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