Drones set to revolutionize ecological monitoring: research

A drone equipped with cameras and sensors flies over a simulation of a contaminated area during a training exercise of a nuclear accident following an earthquake in the region of the nuclear site of Cadarache, January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ecologists have a new tool for protecting the environment and monitoring ecological changes, according to an Australian study published on Thursday: drones.

Aerial surveillance robots are more precise than traditional surveying techniques for tracking changes in animal populations and the broader environment, research from Monash University found.

The study compared aerial footage taken from drones flying over tropical and sub-Antarctic islands with information gathered by human counters monitoring bird populations from the ground.

"This opens up exciting new possibilities when it comes to more accurately monitoring Earth's ecosystems," Monash University ecologist Rohan Clarke said in a statement.

He explained that drones had already been used to monitor everything from the breeding success of canopy-nesting birds and to surveying elephants but nobody had yet tested if this method was better than more traditional survey techniques.

"It is highly likely that in the future, drones will be used to monitor populations of birds and animals, especially in inaccessible areas where on the ground surveying is difficult or impossible," Clarke said.

The drone research comes as environmentalists are increasingly turning to high-tech solutions, such as advanced satellite images, to monitor deforestation, droughts and illegal mining, especially in dangerous rural regions.

(Reporting by Chris Arsenault, editing by Ros Russell please add:; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)