Lesser snow goose (Anser caerulescens caerulescens) populations have dramatically altered vegetation communities through increased foraging pressure. In remote regions, regular habitat assessments are logistically challenging and time consuming. Drones are increasingly being used by ecologists to conduct habitat assessments, but reliance on georeferenced data as ground truth may not always be feasible. We estimated goose habitat degradation using photointerpretation of drone imagery and compared estimates to those made with ground-based linear transects. In July 2016, we surveyed five study plots in La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba, to evaluate the effectiveness of a fixed-wing drone with simple Red Green Blue (RGB) imagery for evaluating habitat degradation by snow geese. Ground-based land cover data was collected and grouped into barren, shrub, or non-shrub categories. We compared estimates between ground-based transects and those made from unsupervised classification of drone imagery collected at altitudes of 75, 100, and 120 m above ground level (ground sampling distances of 2.4, 3.2, and 3.8 cm respectively). We found large time savings during the data collection step of drone surveys, but these savings were ultimately lost during imagery processing. Based on photointerpretation, overall accuracy of drone imagery was generally high (88.8% to 92.0%) and Kappa coefficients were similar to previously published habitat assessments from drone imagery. Mixed model estimates indicated 75m drone imagery overestimated barren (F2,182 = 100.03, P < 0.0001) and shrub classes (F2,182 = 160.16, P < 0.0001) compared to ground estimates. Inconspicuous graminoid and forb species (non-shrubs) were difficult to detect from drone imagery and were underestimated compared to ground-based transects (F2,182 = 843.77, P < 0.0001). Our findings corroborate previous findings, and that simple RGB imagery is useful for evaluating broad scale goose damage, and may play an important role in measuring habitat destruction by geese and other agents of environmental change.
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Barnas, Andrew F.; Darby, Brian J.; Vandeberg, Gregory S.; Rockwell, Robert F.; and Ellis-Felege, Susan N., "A comparison of drone imagery and groundbased methods for estimating the extent of habitat destruction by lesser snow geese (Anser caerulescens caerulescens) in La Pérouse Bay" (2019). Biology Faculty Publications. 11.