Un-crewed aerial vehicle population survey of three sympatrically breeding seabird species at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands
Surveying seabirds in polar latitudes can be challenging due to sparse human populations, lack of infrastructure and the risk of disturbance to wildlife or damage to habitats. Counting populations using un-crewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) is a promising approach to overcoming these difficulties. However, a careful validation of the approach is needed to ensure comparability with counts collected using conventional methods. Here, we report on surveys of three Antarctic bird species breeding on Signy Island, South Orkney Islands; Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) and Gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) Penguins, and the South Georgia Shag (Leucocarbo atriceps georgianus). We show that images from low-altitude UAV surveys have sufficient resolution to allow separation of Chinstrap Penguins from contiguously breeding Adélie Penguins (Pygoscelis adéliae), which are very similar in appearance when viewed from overhead. We compare data from ground counts with manual counts of nesting birds on images collected simultaneously by low-altitude aerial photography from multi-rotor UAVs at the same colonies. Results at this long-term monitoring site confirmed a continued population decline for Chinstrap Penguins and increasing Gentoo Penguin population. Although both methods provided breeding pair counts that were generally within ~ 5%, there were significant differences at some locations. We examine these differences in order to highlight potential biases or methodological constraints that should be considered when analysing similar aerial census surveys and comparing them with ground counts.
Authors: Dunn, M.J. ORCID record for M.J. Dunn, Adlard, S., Taylor, A.P., Wood, A.G., Trathan, P.N., Ratcliffe, N.