Remote Sensing in Ecology

Remote Sensing in Ecology

The EAGLE course “Remote Sensing in Biodiversity and Conservation Science” took place in the last week of the summer term at the field research station in Fabrik Schleichach, Steigerwald. 20 biology and EAGLE students worked and lived together for one week and developed several joint ecological remote sensing projects. Beside the actual data analysis and scientific discussions also various field methods were introduced such as lighttraps for catching insects, bats were caught and bird and forest data was provided by the colleagues from the biology department (Prof. J. Müller and colleagues). The students achieved impressive analysis and managed to show the huge potential of interdisciplinary research.

UAV application for remote sensing course started

UAV application for remote sensing course started

The course on UAV application for Remote Sensing started successfully. The weather was good enough to do some first flights. In the next weeks and months more flights will be undertaken and data collected for different fields sites in order to gain more information concerning their ecology, geomorphology, archeology or forestry.  Several software solutions and fields of applications will be explored such as deriving 10cm Digital Elevation Models. Especially the application of UAV data for remote sensing application will be addressed and the students will conduct a project to outline the potential and limits of such aerial imagery for remote sensing tasks.

testing UAV and D-GPS application in the Steigerwald

testing UAV and D-GPS application in the Steigerwald

one of our field sites in the Steigerwald

For several upcoming EAGLE courses we visited potential field sites and tested our equipment. During this first field work of the year our UAV and D-GPS data collection were tested in the Steigerwald at the research station of the University Wuerzburg in Fabrik Schleichach. The research station is part of Prof. Jörg Müllers research department, his staff helped us with the field work and Dr. Simon Thorn, the deputy of the research station gave us a tour of the station and the ongoing research. The EAGLE students will have the opportunity to stay at this research station for the course work or later for an internship or M.Sc. thesis. This time we tested several methods to locate ground control points in the UAV imagery as well as the options to launch the UAV in different types of forest. Additionally, we took images of the research station itself and the plots to evaluate its suitability for later field work and courses. Interesting discussions and potential further collaborations with the biologists working on beetles, bird or fungi composition and distribution, as well as forest composition were also discussed. Tobias Ullmann, Hooman Latifi, Christian Büdel and Martin Wegmann conducted the field work and are now planning further field work in spring and summer as well as joint courses around the research station.

Research Station of the University of Wuerzburg in Steigerwald

M.Sc. handed in on animal movement and remote sensing

M.Sc. handed in on animal movement and remote sensing

The M.Sc. thesis “Can animal movement and remote sensing data help to improve conservation efforts?” by Matthias Biber M.Sc. student within the Global Change Ecology program handed in his thesis. He explored the potential of remote sensing data to explain animal movement patterns and if these linkages can help to improve conservation efforts. He used Zebra as study animal in Southern and Eastern Africa. The first supervisor was Martin Wegmann, the second supervisor of his M.Sc. was Thomas Müller from BIK-F.

abstract:
Climate and land-use change have a growing influence on the world’s ecosystems, in particular in Africa, and increasingly threaten wildlife. The resulting habitat loss and fragmentation can impede animal movement, which is especially true for migratory species. Ungulate migration has declined in recent years, but its drivers are still unclear. Animal movement and remote sensing data was combined to analyse the influence of  various vegetation and water indices on the habitat selection of migratory plains zebras in Botswana’s Ngamiland. The study area experienced a more or less steady state in normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) over the last 33 years. More than half of the study area was covered by PAs. NDVI increased stronger in PAs compared to areas that were not protected. NDVI was always higher in the Okavango Delta  compared to the Makgadikgadi Pans. Although zebras are thought to select for areas with high NDVI, they experienced a lower NDVI in the Makgadikgadi grasslands during wet season. Step selection functions (SSFs) showed that NDVI derived from Landsat as well as NDVI derived from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) were significant drivers of habitat selection across all individuals. Migration  seems to be driven by the high nutritional value of the Makgadikgadi grasslands and not seasonal resource limitation. Landsat imagery was shown to provide different environmental information compared to MODIS data. This highlights not only the importance of NDVI for explaining animal movement, but also the importance of Landsat imagery for monitoring habitat extent and fragmentation. Incorporating the animal’s  behavioural state and memory into SSFs will help to improve our ecological understanding of animal movement in the future.

M.Sc. started on monitoring protected areas

M.Sc. started on monitoring protected areas

rp_EO-MOVE_sentinel_wuerzburg_birds_movement-286x300.jpgHenrike Schulte to Bühne started her M.Sc. „Quantifying landcover change using remote sensing data in a transboundary protected area“ in cooperation with the Zoological Society of London, Dr. Nathalie Pettorelli within the Global Change Ecology study program. Her M.Sc. is dealing with evaluating the status and change of nationalparks especially transboundary ones. Countries increasingly cooperate across boundaries for conservation purposes and these need to be evaluated and monitored constantly. Henrike is using remote sensing data to analyze environmental changes and is discussing the results with respect to conservation planning and political implications.

M.Sc. thesis on animal movement interactions and the environment

M.Sc. thesis on animal movement interactions and the environment

joe_premeir_movement_graph_2016Joe Premier submitted his M.Sc. thesis on “The Lynx Effect: Behaviour of Roe Deer in the Presence of Lynx in a European Forest Ecosystem” within the Global Change Ecology M.Sc. program. He was co-supervised by Marco Heurich from the Bavarian Forest Nationalpark. Predation risk is one of the main drivers of prey behaviour. In this study the behavioural responses of roe deer under the predation risk of lynx were investigated using a combination of spatial analysis and statistical analyses. Evidence for the hypothesis that roe deer exhibit avoidance behaviour to lynx locations both spatially and temporally could not be found, however the upper limit of avoidance behaviour was constrained to within 4 hours. It was hypothesised that the activity level of roe deer was driven by proximity to lynx, with activity levels increasing with decreasing separation distance. The activity level of roe deer was in general found not to be strongly driven by the variable distance to lynx. As hypothesised, the activity level of roe was associated with habitat, such that lower activity levels occurred in areas of highest visibility (low cover) and higher activity in lowest visibility (high cover). It was found in general that a LiDAR habitat index was the most important explanatory variable of roe deer activity level. In the specific case of the closest encounters (within 24 hours and 1Km) during the night, lynx’s most active time, activity level of roe deer was found to be elevated compared to less proximate individuals. There is also a suggestion that these roe deer move further than those more distant to lynx. The hypothesis that roe deer select habitats of lower predation risk when close to lynx was partially supported; it was found that roe deer selected lower predation risk areas when closest to lynx (within 24 hours and 1Km) during winter nights and consistently inhabited lower predation risk habitats during summer when compared to winter. Furthermore, it was shown that activity level was lower in high risk habitats as hypothesised. Under the predation risk of an ambush hunter, in this case lynx, it is suggested that roe deer adopt a “business as usual” behaviour, with energy diverted for anti-predator behaviour limited to scenarios of heightened risk. It is believed a near continuous GPS tracking schedule would be required to resolve lethal and non-lethal encounter events and illuminate avoidance behaviour and perception distance further.