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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38179. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038179. Epub 2012 Jun 5.

Semi-automated image analysis for the assessment of megafaunal densities at the Arctic deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN.

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Biodata Mining Group, Faculty of Technology, Bielefeld University, Bielefeld, Germany.


Megafauna play an important role in benthic ecosystem function and are sensitive indicators of environmental change. Non-invasive monitoring of benthic communities can be accomplished by seafloor imaging. However, manual quantification of megafauna in images is labor-intensive and therefore, this organism size class is often neglected in ecosystem studies. Automated image analysis has been proposed as a possible approach to such analysis, but the heterogeneity of megafaunal communities poses a non-trivial challenge for such automated techniques. Here, the potential of a generalized object detection architecture, referred to as iSIS (intelligent Screening of underwater Image Sequences), for the quantification of a heterogenous group of megafauna taxa is investigated. The iSIS system is tuned for a particular image sequence (i.e. a transect) using a small subset of the images, in which megafauna taxa positions were previously marked by an expert. To investigate the potential of iSIS and compare its results with those obtained from human experts, a group of eight different taxa from one camera transect of seafloor images taken at the Arctic deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN is used. The results show that inter- and intra-observer agreements of human experts exhibit considerable variation between the species, with a similar degree of variation apparent in the automatically derived results obtained by iSIS. Whilst some taxa (e. g. Bathycrinus stalks, Kolga hyalina, small white sea anemone) were well detected by iSIS (i. e. overall Sensitivity: 87%, overall Positive Predictive Value: 67%), some taxa such as the small sea cucumber Elpidia heckeri remain challenging, for both human observers and iSIS.

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