Measuring height characteristics of sagebrush using imagery derived from small unmanned aerial systems

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In situ measurements of sagebrush have traditionally been expensive and time consuming. Currently, improvements in small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) technology can be used to quantify sagebrush morphology and community structure with high resolution imagery on western rangelands, especially in sensitive habitat of the Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). The emergence of photogrammetry algorithms to generate 3D point clouds from true color imagery can potentially increase the efficiency and accuracy of measuring shrub height in sage-grouse habitat. Our objective was to determine optimal parameters for measuring sagebrush height including flight altitude, single- vs. double- pass, and continuous vs. pause features. We acquired imagery using a DJI Mavic Pro 2 multi-rotor Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) equipped with an RGB camera, flown at 30.5, 45, 75, and 120 m and implementing single-pass and double-pass methods, using continuous flight and paused flight for each photo method. We generated a Digital Surface Model (DSM) from which we derived plant height, and then performed an accuracy assessment using on the ground measurements taken at the time of flight. We found high correlation between field measured heights and estimated heights, with a mean difference of approximately 10 cm (SE = 0.4 cm) and little variability in accuracy between flights with different heights and other parameters after statistical correction using linear regression. We conclude that higher altitude flights using a single-pass method are optimal to measure sagebrush height due to lower requirements in data storage and processing time.

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