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Drones are the future of science trends

Drones and mobile phones will play a key role in future monitoring of wildlife population trends according to a world-leading population expert from the University of St Andrews.

Steve BucklandProfessor Steve Buckland, Director of the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling and the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Guy Medal in Gold from the Royal Statistical Society (RSS), said:

“Wildlife assessment methods are going through an interesting period, with rapid advances in technology. In future, it is likely that most surveys of large mammals and birds in open or marine habitats will be conducted by drones taking high-resolution imagery, with image analysis methods used to identify and count animals.

“In less open habitats, camera traps will generate data from which abundance can be estimated.  Many songbird surveys are likely to be conducted using acoustic sensors, again with automated identification of calls and songs by computers.”

Biodiversity monitoring will rely on new technologies to generate data on a wider range of species from a large number of representative locations. Citizen science projects will also contribute hugely to this effort. For example, anyone with a smart phone can take images of insects or plants and submit them online so that experts, or software, can identify them.

Professor Buckland added: “Statistical methods must keep up with these rapid developments, to ensure that the large quantities of data generated are modelled in a way that fully exploits the information and gives reliable inferences on the health of wild animal populations and communities.”

The Royal Statistical Society (RSS) awarded Professor Buckland the Guy Medal in Gold in January 2019 for his significant and sustained contributions to the development of statistical methods for ecological applications over a period of more than 40 years.

The Guy Medal in Gold is awarded to RSS Fellows or others who are judged to have merited a signal mark of distinction by reason of their innovative contributions to the theory or application of statistics. This is just the 38th gold medal to be awarded since their inception in 1892.

Professor Buckland has been a pioneer in developing robust statistical methods in many areas including wildlife population assessment, biodiversity monitoring and modelling population dynamics. He is one of the most internationally recognised and distinguished statisticians in his field, whose impact has been global for survey design and associated analytical methods, transforming the power, accuracy and robustness of traditional methods, which in turn have led to the identification of declining populations and changes in biodiversity.


Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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