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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e50336. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050336. Epub 2012 Dec 11.

The eye in the sky: combined use of unmanned aerial systems and GPS data loggers for ecological research and conservation of small birds.

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Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Estación Biológica de Doñana CSIC, Seville, Spain.


Technological advances for wildlife monitoring have expanded our ability to study behavior and space use of many species. But biotelemetry is limited by size, weight, data memory and battery power of the attached devices, especially in animals with light body masses, such as the majority of bird species. In this study, we describe the combined use of GPS data logger information obtained from free-ranging birds, and environmental information recorded by unmanned aerial systems (UASs). As a case study, we studied habitat selection of a small raptorial bird, the lesser kestrel Falco naumanni, foraging in a highly dynamic landscape. After downloading spatio-temporal information from data loggers attached to the birds, we programmed the UASs to fly and take imagery by means of an onboard digital camera documenting the flight paths of those same birds shortly after their recorded flights. This methodology permitted us to extract environmental information at quasi-real time. We demonstrate that UASs are a useful tool for a wide variety of wildlife studies.

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