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    Accurate census is essential for endangered plant management, yet lack of resources may make complete on-the-ground census difficult to achieve. Accessibility, especially for species in fragile habitats, is an added constraint. We examined the feasibility of using UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle, drone)-based imagery for census of an endangered plant species, Arctomecon humilis (dwarf bear-poppy), an herbaceous perennial gypsophile endemic of the Mojave Desert, USA. Using UAV technology, we captured imagery at both 50-m altitude (census) and 15-m altitude (validation) at two populations, White Dome (325 ha) and Red Bluffs (166 ha). The imagery was processed into orthomosaics that averaged 2.32 cm ground sampling distance (GSD) for 50-m imagery and 0.73 cm GSD for 15-m imagery. Putative poppy plants were marked in the 50-m imagery according to predefined criteria. We then used the 15-m imagery from each area to verify the identification accuracy of marked plants. Visual evaluation of the 50-m imagery resulted in errors of both commission and omission, mainly caused by failure to accurately identify or detect small poppies (<10 cm diameter). Higher-resolution 30-m altitude imagery (1.19 cm GSD) greatly reduced errors of commission. Habitat classification demonstrated that poppy density variation was closely tied to soil surface color. This study showed that drone imagery can potentially be used to census rare plant species with distinctive morphology in open habitats and understand their spatial distribution.

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    Rominger, Kody; Meyer, Susan E. 2019. Application of UAV-based methodology for census of an endangered plant species in a fragile habitat. Remote Sensing. 11: 719.


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    Arctomecon humilis, biodiversity, conservation, drone, dwarf bear-poppy, edaphic endemism, gypsum, habitat classification, object recognition, UAS (unmanned aerial system), UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle)

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