Texas State University’s UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) program is specifically designed to collect environmental data in support of science and natural resource management. The UAS program captures high-resolution, multispectral imagery that is geo-referenced and can be stitched into a mosaic. Completed mosaics can be used to map species’ distributional patterns, identify various environmental characteristics, or used in remote sensing analysis to support research questions relating to natural resource management.
Specific science and natural resource applications completed by Texas State University’s UAS program include:
- Characterization of in-stream and riparian habitats to guide fish habitat improvements
- Delineation of enduring pools in streams during drought and low-flow conditions to guide native fish conservation efforts
- Assessments of vegetative coverage of restored intertidal wetlands to evaluate restoration success
- Counts of colonial water bird nesting sites to monitor status and trends of populations
- Delineation of sea grass beds and detection of boat propeller scars to monitor status and trends in vegetative coverage and to guide boater education efforts
- Terrestrial and wetland habitat surveys to guide habitat management at wildlife management areas
- Delineation of riparian invasive plants to guide eradication efforts
- Overall, Texas State University’s UAS program has shown success as a complementary tool to support natural resource management and conservation efforts.
The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is autonomous and navigates according to a pre-programmed flight plan. The onboard computer (i.e., autopilot) is programmed with the flight plan controls the UAV during flight. The UAV is wirelessly connected to the ground control station (GCS) so that it can relay the aircraft’s status down to the GCS and receive commands from the GCS
The sensor payload on Texas State University’s UAV is comprised of two Canon cameras used to capture visual (red, green, blue) and near-infrared (NIR) light.
Ground Control Station
Texas State University’s ground control station is used to program the UAV’s flight plan, set up the sensor payload (i.e., camera settings), and monitor and control the UAV from the ground station computer. The ground station can be set up on a single table using minimal equipment including: a computer, modem and antenna, bungee/launcher, and RC transmitter.
UAS provides high-resolution, multi-spectral, multi-temporal imagery that can be used to map and classify the characteristics of vegetation and create models that can reveal biological identity, landscape changes, and species habitat. Imagery collected by the UAS program can also be used to determine distribution and percent coverage of vegetation species.
Texas Parks and Wildlife and other agencies have initiated a long-term effort to eradicate and control the spread of non-native invasive Salt cedar in North Texas. Our UAS remote sensing capabilities were used to identify locations of Salt Cedar within the Matador Wildlife Management Area, located in North Texas.
Natural resources are dynamic, and therefore, require quick and adaptive management plans. Texas State University’s UAS can provide imagery for researches involved in wide variety of management applications that include: 1) monitoring and delineating habitat, 2) implementing, developing, and monitoring restoration projects, and 3) removing non-native vegetation species.
Texas State University has provided real-time, high-resolution imagery for management and restoration programs. Texas State UAS was flown over the Llano River system for use in habitat delineations of river features and riparian corridors in support of Texas Parks and Wildlife’s restoration activities for the Guadalupe bass. Geo-referenced imagery was used in conservation decision-making process in the Llano River watershed. Texas State UAS was flown over North Deer Island in Galveston Bay to help mangers monitor restoration efforts as well as provide estimates on available nesting habitat for colonial water birds and shoreline birds.
Aerial surveys are widely used to estimate and monitor wildlife populations. Recent technological developments in UAS have lead researchers to explore using UAS as an alternative to the traditional small manned aircraft for conducting aerial surveys. Using UAS in lieu of manned aircraft could save human pilots from dangerous jobs, reduce maintenance and operation costs, and provide results more promptly and accurately.
Texas State University’s UAV was flown over North Deer Island located in West Galveston Bay to estimate colonial water bird nesting counts. Flying at an altitude of 300 m AGL, the UAV system provided 8 cm image resolution with 10 cm image resolution of the completed mosaic. Using the completed mosaic developed from UAV imagery, three independent observer counts of brown pelican nesting sites were 2,144, 2,215, and 2,232.
Both non-native removal efforts and subsequent native species restoration studies commonly include time-series data of species abundance and/or species distributional patterns. Unmanned aerial systems can be an effective means of obtaining such information because of the potential for instantaneous imagery as well as sequential flights using the same flight path. Therefore, more accurate results in detection changes are possible.
Texas State University’s UAS was utilized to identify isolated pools in the Blanco River during a low flow conditions to aid in the removal of non-native small mouth bass and facilitate the reestablishment of Guadalupe bass population in the Blanco River. A Google Earth “kmz” was provided to TPWD staff within 24 hours of the actual flight that identified location of observed isolated pools.