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Using Fixed-Wing UAV for Detecting and Mapping the Distribution and Abundance of Penguins on the South Shetlands Islands, Antarctica

1
Thuringian Institute of Sustainability and Climate Protection (ThINK), Leutragraben 1, 07743 Jena, Germany
2
Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Natural History Museum, CSIC, José Gutiérrez Abascal, 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain
3
Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Dornburger Straße 159, 07743 Jena, Germany
4
Department of Geography, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Löbdergraben 32, 07743 Jena, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Drones 2019, 3(2), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/drones3020039
Received: 28 March 2019 / Revised: 16 April 2019 / Accepted: 17 April 2019 / Published: 19 April 2019
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Abstract

Antarctic marine ecosystems undergo enormous changes, presumably due to climate change and fishery. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have an unprecedented potential for measuring these changes by mapping indicator species such as penguins even in remote areas. We used a battery-powered fixed-wing UAV to survey colonies along a 30-km stretch of the remote coast of southwest King George Island and northwest Nelson Island (South Shetland Islands, Antarctica) during the austral summer 2016/17. With multiple flights, we covered a total distance of 317 km. We determined the exact position of 14 chinstrap penguin colonies, including two small unknown colonies, with a total abundance of 35,604 adults. To model the number of occupied nests based on the number of adults counted in the UAV imagery we used data derived from terrestrial time-lapse imagery. The comparison with previous studies revealed a decline in the total abundance of occupied nests. However, we also found four chinstrap penguin colonies that have grown since the 1980s against the general trend on the South Shetland Islands. The results proved the suitability of the use of small and lightweight fixed-wing UAVs with electric engines for mapping penguin colonies in remote areas in the Antarctic. View Full-Text
Keywords: Antarctica; birds; BVLOS; penguin; drone; fixed-wing UAV; monitoring; population change; Pygoscelis antarcticus; South Shetland Islands Antarctica; birds; BVLOS; penguin; drone; fixed-wing UAV; monitoring; population change; Pygoscelis antarcticus; South Shetland Islands
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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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Pfeifer, C.; Barbosa, A.; Mustafa, O.; Peter, H.-U.; Rümmler, M.-C.; Brenning, A. Using Fixed-Wing UAV for Detecting and Mapping the Distribution and Abundance of Penguins on the South Shetlands Islands, Antarctica. Drones 2019, 3, 39.

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