Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as drones, are increasingly employed to monitor and protect wildlife. But researchers writing in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on May 23 say that steps should be taken to ensure that UAV operations are not causing undue stress to animals.
"Even though an animal might not appear to be disturbed, it could be quite stressed--for example, a bird may choose to remain near a UAV even when stressed because it is incubating an egg or protecting its hatchling," says Jarrod Hodgson of The University of Adelaide in Australia. "It is likely that animal responses vary depending on a variety of factors, including the species, environmental and historical context, and the type of UAV and its method of operation."
Studies have shown that UAVs can be more efficient than traditional approaches to wildlife monitoring and can provide more precise observational data. Accordingly, there has been a considerable increase in the use of UAVs for research purposes.
In the new paper, Hodgson and colleague Lian Pin Koh develop a code of best practices intended to help mitigate or alleviate potential disturbance to wildlife related to UAV use. Their goal is to ensure that "UAVs can be a powerful, low-impact ecological survey tool."
Hodgson and Koh offer the following recommendations:
Hodgson and Koh are optimistic that most UAV users have the animals' best interest in mind.
"In our experience, the vast majority of UAV users, both biologists and hobbyists, do not want to disturb wildlife and will often seek advice from experts," Hodgson says. "However, in some cases, users may be unaware that their UAV operations could be causing considerable and unnecessary disturbance. By promoting an awareness of the potential for UAVs to impact wildlife, we hope that users will be more conscious of the potential impacts and utilize the code to ensure their UAV operations are responsible."
Hodgson and Koh say that they are now conducting studies with the goal of better understanding how different animals respond to UAVs. The results of that work will inform the development of species-specific protocols designed to mitigate or alleviate potential disturbance. They also continue to develop and test methods to maximize the benefits of UAVs as a survey tool.
"In a time of unprecedented change, such techniques will assist in understanding, managing, and conserving our planet's biodiversity," Hodgson says.
Materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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