Mapping the Spread of Invasive Plants by UAV

Friday, February 12, 2016
Linnea Warburton, Massachusetts Academy of Sciences, Lexington, MA
Invasive plants pose a serious threat to ecosystems by displacing and killing native species.  Phragmites Australis, an invasive wetland reed, has begun to spread vigorously across North America in recent years, damaging important wetland habitats.  In order for Phragmites Australis to be managed and eradicated in different areas of the United States, the extent of its spread must be mapped. However, current mapping methods such as aerial photography by plane or Synthetic Aperture Radar are often too costly to be used. The objective of this experiment was to develop a new method of mapping invasive plants through the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly known as UAV’s.  UAV’s offer researchers a cost effective method of capturing aerial photography, while allowing for more analysis than can be done with traditional ground level photographs. Additionally, the use of UAV’s offers a way for citizen scientists to contribute to the data collecting process and thus the management of Phragmites Australis populations. The UAV built for this project was a quadcopter controlled with an RC transmitter. Aerial photographs of Phragmites Australis were taken in various locations around Lexington, Massachusetts, and then stitched into maps. These maps were analyzed in order to determine the percentage of invasive plant versus native plant in these areas. The accuracy of the resulting maps demonstrated the viability of this new method of mapping invasive plants by UAV.