Julianne Gibson

Julianne Gibson

Effectiveness of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for detecting Gopher Tortoise Burrows After Prescribed Fire

Authors

Julianne Gibson, Adrienne Dytraska, Marcus Lashley

Mentor

Marcus Lashley

College

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Abstract

Gopher tortoises, a keystone species which constructs extensive burrows, are the subject of extensive studies not only because of the role they play as ecosystem engineers but also because the recent declines in their populations. Their burrows are ecologically valuable as they provide shelter and habitat to other species and have been found to have a positive effect on vertebrate biodiversity. In modern studies and management, gopher tortoise burrows are detected by walking line transects which requires a significant amount of manpower. Often, this is done after prescribed fire, a key part of maintaining and improving their habitat. Further, thick understory conditions increase difficulties locating burrows as they are well-hidden under vegetation in these conditions. In this research, I am flying line transects using UAVs as well as walking them throughout a prescribed fire cycle in order to analyze the effectiveness of the use of UAVs in comparison with traditional LTDS with consideration for the effects of vegetation and prescribed fire. After walking transects for a certain amount of time and flying the same transects for the same amount of time over a 6-week period, visual counts of burrows will be statistically compared to determine if the use of UAVs will significantly improve detection of burrows. With gopher tortoises being an important part of the ecosystem, a better method for detecting their burrows that decreases the effort and manpower needed to conduct research will vastly improve management and population studies.

Poster

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Research Pitch

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