A group of scientists researching a migrating herd has reinforced the benefits that drone technology offers scientific endeavours.
Ecologists Andrew Berdahl, a Santa Fe Institute fellow, and Colin Torney, of the University of Glasgow, flew a UAV to monitor the complex social dynamics of a herd of caribou reindeers as they migrated from Victoria Island to mainland Canada.
A report discussing the project stated: “There are limitations. The proportion of individuals within a group that can be tracked is strongly dependent on the size and stability of groups, and the logistics of capturing and tagging animals.
“Recent advances in unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and automated computer vision offer a complementary technology to the use of individual telemetry with the potential to deliver the simultaneous trajectories needed to infer interaction rules of wild populations in a variety of settings. In this work, we applied these technologies to understand how social interactions among conspecifics influence the movement decisions of a free-ranging migratory ungulate in the Canadian Arctic.”
According to National Geographic, the team first took to the sky in 2015, when it captured 12 hours and 40 minutes of footage, due to the UAV’s limited battery life, of the running caribou herd. The data was then fed into a computer vision program that identified each individual caribou and linked the animals’ positions across frames to get their individual trajectories.