Linchant J., Lejeune P., Quevauvillers S., Vermeulen C., Brostaux Y., Lhoest S., Michez A. [2023] Evaluation of an Innovative Rosette Flight Plan Design for Wildlife Aerial Surveys with UAS. Drone 7, 208.

Abstract: (1) Regular wildlife abundance surveys are a key conservation tool. Manned aircraft flying transects often remain the best alternative for counting large ungulates. Drones have cheaper and safer logistics, however their range is generally too short for large-scale application of the traditional method. Our paper investigates an innovative rose􀁂e flight plan for wildlife census, and evaluates relevance of this sampling protocol by comparing its statistical performance with transects, based on numerical simulations. (2) The UAS flight plan consisted in two rose􀁂es of 6 triangular “petals” spread across the survey area, for a theoretical sampling rate of 2.95%, as opposed to a 20.04% classic sampling protocol with systematic transects. We tested the logistics of our survey design in Garamba National Park. We then modeled theoretical population distributions for both antelopes and buffaloes. We calculated animal densities in the simulated footprints of the theoretical rosette and transect flight plans. We also tested aggregating results for 2, 3 and 4 repetitions of the same rose􀁂e flight plan to increase the sampling rate. (3) Simulation results showed that the coefficient of variation associated with density estimates decreases with the number of repetitions of the rosette flight plan, and aggregating four repetitions is enough to give antelope densities with acceptable accuracy and precision while staying at a lower sampling rate. Buffalo densities displayed much higher variability and it shows the significant impact of gregariousness on density estimate accuracy and precision. (4) The method was found to be inappropriate for highly aggregative species but efficient for species that disperse widely and more randomly in their environment. Logistics required to perform a full survey in the field remain time- and resources-intensive. Therefore, we recommend it for remote parks facing difficulties to organize manned aerial counts. Lower costs and developments such as solar UASs offer interesting future perspectives.