Thanks to a $203,220 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency award, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professors Zhenghong Tang and Wayne Woldt are planning to develop a methodology to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to conduct dynamic monitoring and precise assessments of playa wetland habitats.
Areas the team plans to focus on include hydrological conditions, vegetation and energy levels, and wildlife usage in the Nebraska Rainwater Basin.
According to a press release from the university, surveying the public waterfowl production and wildlife management areas across the basin will require multiple field trips to complete the data collection during the spring and fall migratory seasons.
During the drone flights, the team will use multispectral sensors for detecting soil-moisture levels and mapping wetland inundation during spring migration season; thermal imaging cameras and oblique photogrammetry for evaluating wildlife use and its distribution on playa wetlands; and 3D imagery for surveying plant community conditions, estimations of energy availability, and assessments of vegetation management effectiveness.
In comparison to plane or ground surveying methods, the UAS will provide improved imaging with greater resolution and detail in a cost-efficient, timely and flexible manner, the university says.
“Conducting timely monitoring and accurate assessment is extremely important for wetland managers to implement appropriate conservation programs to increase the quantity and quality of wetlands,” says Jeff Drahota, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist with the Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District. “This unmanned aircraft system provides an advanced new tool to conduct more rapid, precise monitoring and assessment for playa wetlands.”
The data analyzed during the assessment stage will help close the information gap and help wildlife managers implement proven restoration practices, choose more effective treatments, and create a better understanding of this delicate ecosystem throughout its annual cycle, the university explains.