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PeerJ. 2015 Jul 7;3:e1077. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1077. eCollection 2015.

Integrating structure-from-motion photogrammetry with geospatial software as a novel technique for quantifying 3D ecological characteristics of coral reefs.

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Department of Biology, College of Natural Sciences, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa , McCarthy Mall, Honolulu, HI , USA.
Department of Geosciences, Idaho State University , Pocatello, ID , USA.
Hawai'i Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa , Kaneohe, HI , USA.
Marine Science Department, University of Hawai'i at Hilo , Hilo, HI , USA.


The structural complexity of coral reefs plays a major role in the biodiversity, productivity, and overall functionality of reef ecosystems. Conventional metrics with 2-dimensional properties are inadequate for characterization of reef structural complexity. A 3-dimensional (3D) approach can better quantify topography, rugosity and other structural characteristics that play an important role in the ecology of coral reef communities. Structure-from-Motion (SfM) is an emerging low-cost photogrammetric method for high-resolution 3D topographic reconstruction. This study utilized SfM 3D reconstruction software tools to create textured mesh models of a reef at French Frigate Shoals, an atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The reconstructed orthophoto and digital elevation model were then integrated with geospatial software in order to quantify metrics pertaining to 3D complexity. The resulting data provided high-resolution physical properties of coral colonies that were then combined with live cover to accurately characterize the reef as a living structure. The 3D reconstruction of reef structure and complexity can be integrated with other physiological and ecological parameters in future research to develop reliable ecosystem models and improve capacity to monitor changes in the health and function of coral reef ecosystems.


3D topographic reconstruction; Coral; Coral ecology; Coral reef; Habitat; Photogrammetry; Reef structural complexity; Structure-from-motion

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