Skip to main content
ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #409082

Research Project: Restoration and Conservation of Great Basin Ecosystems

Location: Range and Meadow Forage Management Research

Title: Demography with drones: Detecting growth and survival of shrubs with unoccupied aerial systems

item Olsoy, Peter
item ZAIATS, ANDRII - Boise State University
item DELPARTE, DONNA - Idaho State University
item GERMINO, MATTHEW - Us Geological Survey (USGS)
item RICHARDSON, BRYCE - Us Forest Service (FS)
item ROSER, ANNA - Boise State University
item FORBEY, JENNIFER - Boise State University
item CATTAU, MEGAN - Boise State University
item CAUGHLIN, T - Boise State University

Submitted to: Restoration Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/8/2024
Publication Date: 1/25/2024
Citation: Olsoy, P.J., Zaiats, A., Delparte, D.M., Germino, M.J., Richardson, B.A., Roser, A.V., Forbey, J.S., Cattau, M.E., Caughlin, T.T. 2024. Demography with drones: Detecting growth and survival of shrubs with unoccupied aerial systems. Restoration Ecology. Article e14113.

Interpretive Summary: Restoration efforts in rangelands are occurring at larger and larger spatial extents, which makes monitoring success and failure challenging if not impossible with traditional field methods. In this paper, we used unoccupied aerial systems (UAS, i.e., drones) to measure survival and growth of individual plants. Monitoring restoration with UAS is feasible for performing a complete census, but not yet for growth. There is a startup cost for equipment ($1000 - $25,000) and training that needs to be overcome before time-savings and efficiency can make UAS cost-effective as a monitoring tool.

Technical Abstract: Large-scale disturbances, such as megafires, motivate restoration at equally large extents. Measuring the survival and growth of individual plants plays a key role in current efforts to monitor restoration success. However, the scale of modern restoration (e.g., >10,000'ha) challenges measurements of demographic rates with field data. In this study, we demonstrate how unoccupied aerial system (UAS) flights can provide an efficient solution to the tradeoff of precision and spatial extent in detecting demographic rates from the air. We flew two, sequential UAS flights at two sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) common gardens to measure the survival and growth of individual plants. The accuracy of Bayesian-optimized segmentation of individual shrub canopies was high (73–95%, depending on the year and site), and remotely sensed survival estimates were within 10% of ground-truthed survival censuses. Stand age structure affected remotely sensed estimates of growth; growth was overestimated relative to field-based estimates by 57% in the first garden with older stands, but agreement was high in the second garden with younger stands. Further, younger stands (similar to those just after disturbance) with shorter, smaller plants were sometimes confused with other shrub species and bunchgrasses, demonstrating a need for integrating spectral classification approaches that are increasingly available on affordable UAS platforms. The older stand had several merged canopies, which led to an underestimation of abundance but did not bias remotely sensed survival estimates. Advances in segmentation and UAS structure from motion photogrammetry will enable demographic rate measurements at management-relevant extents.