Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Unmanned aircraft systems in wildlife research: Current and future applications of a transformative technology

December 1, 2016

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones – are an emerging tool that may provide a safer, more cost-effective, and quieter alternative to traditional research methods. We review examples where UAS have been used to document wildlife abundance, behavior, and habitat, and illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of this technology with two case studies. We summarize research on behavioral responses of wildlife to UAS, and discuss the need to understand how recreational and commercial applications of this technology could disturb certain species. Currently, the widespread implementation of UAS by scientists is limited by flight range, regulatory frameworks, and a lack of validation. UAS are most effective when used to examine smaller areas close to their launch sites, whereas manned aircraft are recommended for surveying greater distances. The growing demand for UAS in research and industry is driving rapid regulatory and technological progress, which in turn will make them more accessible and effective as analytical tools.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2016
Title Unmanned aircraft systems in wildlife research: Current and future applications of a transformative technology
DOI 10.1002/fee.1281
Authors Katherine S. Christie, Sophie L. Gilbert, Casey L. Brown, Michael Hatfield, Leanne Hanson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Index ID 70178642
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center