Thermal Infrared Imaging from Drones Offers a Major Advance for Spider Monkey Surveys

Denise Spaan led a new paper on how drones equipped with a thermal imaging camera can facilitate counting spider monkeys.

Accurate and precise population estimates form the basis of conservation action, but are lacking for many arboreal species due to the high costs and difficulty in surveying these species.

Recently, researchers have started to use drones to obtain data on animal distribution and density.

In this study, we compared ground and drone counts for spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) at their sleeping sites using a custom-built drone fitted with a thermal infrared (TIR) camera.

We demonstrated that a drone with a TIR camera can be successfully employed to determine the presence and count the number of spider monkeys in a forested area. Using a concordance analysis, we found high agreement between ground and drone counts for small monkey subgroups (<10 individuals), indicating that the methods do not differ when surveying small subgroups.

However, we found low agreement between methods for larger subgroups (>10 individuals), with drone counts being higher than the corresponding ground counts in 83% of surveys. We could identify additional individuals from TIR drone footage due to a greater area covered compared to ground surveys.

We recommend using TIR drones for surveys of spider monkey sleeping sites and discuss current challenges to implementation. View Full-Text

by Denise Spaan ,Claire Burke, Owen McAree ,Filippo Aureli,Coral E. Rangel-Rivera, Anja Hutschenreiter , Steve N. Longmore ,Paul R. McWhirter and Serge A. Wich 

Paper submitted March 2019