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RESEARCH ARTICLE: Using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for Rangelands: Current Applications and Future Potentials

  • Albert Rango (a1), Andrea Laliberte (a1), Caiti Steele (a1), Jeffrey E. Herrick (a1), Brandon Bestelmeyer (a1), Thomas Schmugge (a2), Abigail Roanhorse (a3) and Vince Jenkins (a4)...

High resolution aerial photographs have important rangeland applications, such as monitoring vegetation change, developing grazing strategies, determining rangeland health, and assessing remediation treatment effectiveness. Acquisition of high resolution images by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has certain advantages over piloted aircraft missions, including lower cost, improved safety, flexibility in mission planning, and closer proximity to the target. Different levels of remote sensing data can be combined to provide more comprehensive information: 15–30 m resolution imaging from space-borne sensors for determining uniform landscape units; < 1 m satellite or aircraft data to assess the pattern of ecological states in an area of interest; 5 cm UAV images to measure gap and patch sizes as well as percent bare soil and vegetation ground cover; and < 1 cm ground-based boom photography for ground truth or reference data. Two parallel tracks of investigation are necessary: one that emphasizes the utilization of the most technically advanced sensors for research, and a second that emphasizes the minimization of costs and the maximization of simplicity for monitoring purposes. We envision that in the future, resource management agencies, rangeland consultants, and private land managers should be able to use small, lightweight UAVs to satisfy their needs for acquiring improved data at a reasonable cost, and for making appropriate management decisions.

Corresponding author
Address correspondence to: Albert Rango, Research Hydrologist, USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, MSC 3JER, PO Box 30003, NMSU, 2995 Knox St., Las Cruces, NM 88003; (fax) 505-646-5889; (e-mail)
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Environmental Practice
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