Lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles will revolutionize spatial ecology

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Abstract

Ecologists require spatially explicit data to relate structure to function. To date, heavy reliance has been placed on obtaining such data from remote-sensing instruments mounted on spacecraft or manned aircraft, although the spatial and temporal resolutions of the data are often not suited to local-scale ecological investigations. Recent technological innovations have led to an upsurge in the availability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – aircraft remotely operated from the ground – and there are now many lightweight UAVs on offer at reasonable costs. Flying low and slow, UAVs offer ecologists new opportunities for scale-appropriate measurements of ecological phenomena. Equipped with capable sensors, UAVs can deliver fine spatial resolution data at temporal resolutions defined by the end user. Recent innovations in UAV platform design have been accompanied by improvements in navigation and the miniaturization of measurement technologies, allowing the study of individual organisms and their spatiotemporal dynamics at close range.

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