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Present and Future of Drones (UAVs) for Conservation in Protected Areas

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/9th January 2019, Jesús Jiménez López and Margarita Mulero-Pázmány/ Park managers call for cost-effective and innovative solutions to handle a wide variety of environmental problems that threaten biodiversity in protected areas. Recently, drones have been called upon to revolutionize conservation and hold great potential to evolve and raise better-informed decisions to assist management. Despite great expectations, the benefits that drones could bring to foster effectiveness remain fundamentally unexplored.

To address this gap, we performed a literature review about the use of drones in conservation. We selected a total of 256 studies, of which 99 were carried out in protected areas. We classified the studies in five distinct areas of applications: “wildlife monitoring and management”; “ecosystem monitoring”; “law enforcement”; “ecotourism”; and “environmental management and disaster response”. We also identified specific gaps and challenges that would allow for the expansion of critical research or monitoring. Our results support the evidence that drones hold merits to serve conservation actions and reinforce effective management, but multidisciplinary research must resolve the operational and analytical shortcomings that undermine the prospects for drones integration in protected areas.
 
Protected areas aim to safeguard biodiversity, preserve ecosystem services and ensure the persistence of natural heritage. Despite their essential role in conservation, the allocation of resources to cope with an increasing variety of regular activities and unforeseen circumstances remains generally insufficient, severely affecting overall effectiveness. Besides, protected areas subjected to international and national agreements must resolve their acquired responsibilities to maintain their legal status. Hence, there is a demand for cost-effective, versatile and practical initiatives to attend a disparity of requirements to guarantee conservation, including a wide range of natural solutions, technological advances, and methods or innovative application of existing technologies.
 
In the last decade, drones (also known as unmanned aerial systems, remotely piloted aircraft systems, RPAS, UAS, UAV) have been the subject of a growing interest in both the civilian and scientific sphere, and indeed avowed as a new distinct era of remote sensing for the study of the environment. Drones offer a relatively risk-free and low-cost manner to rapidly and systematically observe natural phenomena at high spatio-temporal resolution. For these reasons, drones have recently become a major trend in wildlife research and management.

The success of drones can be partially explained by their great flexibility to carry different sensors and devices. The scope of application determines the best combination of aerial platform and payload. Although drones come in many different shapes and sizes, widespread small fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircrafts are frequently used for video and still photography. These consumer grade drones coupled with lightweight cameras and multispectral sensors can deliver professional mapping solutions at a fraction of a cost than previous photogrammetric techniques. 
 
Medium size drones can be equipped with compact thermal vision cameras, hyperspectral sensors and laser scanning such as LiDAR, with great prospects for wildlife ecology, vegetation studies and forestry applications respectively. Even though visible and multispectral band cameras encompass the most obvious sensing devices, drones can indeed incorporate a diversity of instruments to measure many distinct physical quantities such as temperature, humidity or air pollution. Additionally, large aerial platforms can lift heavier payloads and represent an appropriate solution for integrating complex systems with the capacity to remotely assist sampling, hold cargo or deliver assistance.
 
Original and full article text you may read here: Drones for Conservation in Protected Areas: Present and Future
 
More information about drone (UAV) application you may read here: Global Drone Market Reports

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