top of page
  • Sutirtha Roy

Drone Technology and Artificial Intelligence in Forest Ecology

Drones and AI are increasingly being used in forest ecology to gather and analyse data, monitor, and protect wildlife, and track changes in the forest over time.
Drones equipped with cameras and sensors can capture high-resolution images and collect data on forest structure, vegetation, and wildlife, which can then be processed by AI algorithms to extract insights and trends. AI can also be used to classify and identify different species in the forest, helping ecologists to understand the diversity and distribution of wildlife better.

What is Forest Ecology?

Forest ecology is the scientific study of forests, which includes their structure, functioning, and interactions with the physical environment and other living organisms. Forest ecologists examine the complex relationships between trees, plants, animals, and their environment, including the effects of human activities such as deforestation and climate change. They study topics such as forest growth, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and wildlife habitats. The insights gained from forest ecology research help make informed management decisions and conservation strategies aimed at maintaining the health and diversity of forest ecosystems.

Forest ecology involves research which majorly consists of fieldwork and sometimes artificial intelligence (AI) techniques like deep learning machine learning, etc; to study more about the forest cover and its pattern. Usually, the AI-driven methodology involves the use of drones for monitoring and surveillance of the forest area and generating datasets required for developing real-time models for research.


Field research or fieldwork in forest ecology involves collecting data and conducting observations on the various biotic and abiotic factors present in a forest ecosystem. This data helps to understand the interactions between different species, the effects of environmental variables such as climate and light, and the overall functioning of the ecosystem. Field research methods can include a sampling of soils and vegetation, monitoring wildlife populations and behaviors, and installing environmental sensors to track weather and other variables. The results of field research are used to develop and test hypotheses, guide conservation and management decisions, and contribute to the development of models for understanding and predicting ecosystem dynamics.


A practical example of forest ecology research could be the study of the effects of climate change on the growth and survival of tree species in a particular forest ecosystem. The researchers may measure various environmental factors such as temperature, rainfall, and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and then observe the corresponding changes in tree physiology and population demographics over time. Additionally, they may study how these changes affect the entire forest ecosystem, including the interactions between different tree species and between trees and other forest organisms. The data collected could assist in management decisions aimed at preserving the forest and its diverse species in the face of a changing climate.


Background

Drone technology and AI have revolutionized the way forests are monitored and managed. These technologies provide a unique combination of accuracy, speed, and affordability in collecting, analysing, and interpreting large amounts of data. This has transformed the way forest ecologists gather information, making the study of forests more efficient and effective.



The overall methodology in which drone technology and AI are used combinedly can be referred from the given figure. Drones are responsible for collecting information in the form of videos, images, and sensor data, which can be further used for generating models. These models can be further used for real-time prediction purposes. In the majority of the applications, deep learning techniques are used for developing models. As per the figure, the overall methodology is divided into three parts:

  1. Field Development

  2. Data Acquisition and Processing

  3. Deep Learning model

In the field development segment, various Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are used for data collection in the form of images, videos, and sensor data. This data is captured in a specific format and sent to the research station where it is further processed.


In the data acquisition and processing field, the data pre-processing part takes place. Usually, the captured images are not in the proper format for model training purposes. Various data pre-processing methods are applied to bring the data in the correct orientation, a few of them are horizontal flipping, magnification, cropping, null value elimination, etc.


In the last step, the deep learning model is trained by running a number of epochs or iterations and finally, a trained model is obtained, where the train, test, and validation percentage values are quantified to determine if additional training is required. If the values are optimal, then the model is ready for real-time implementations or else the training steps are repeated to make the model accurate and optimal. After the final training step, the model is usually compressed and deployed on an edge AI device, or real time data is fed to the model to produce results.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) AI in Forest Ecology

AI can play a significant role in forest ecology research by assisting in data collection, analysis, and modeling. Here are a few ways in which AI can be used:

  • Remote Sensing

AI algorithms can be used to process large amounts of remote sensing data from satellites and drones to create high-resolution maps of forest cover, topography, and changes over time.

  • Predictive Modelling

AI can be used to create predictive models that simulate the growth and behaviour of forests under different environmental conditions. These models can help researchers understand how forests may respond to future climate change, land-use changes, and other human activities.

  • Species Identification

AI algorithms can be used to automatically identify and classify different tree species based on their foliage, bark, and other characteristics, which can greatly speed up data collection and analysis.

  • Monitoring Forest Health

AI can be used to detect changes in forest health, such as insect infestations, disease outbreaks, or damage caused by natural disasters, by analysing satellite images and other data.


In summary, AI can help forest ecologists analyse and interpret large amounts of data more efficiently, providing insights into the functioning and dynamics of forest ecosystems and helping to create informed conservation and management strategies.


Applications of Drone Technology and AI in Forest Ecology

Drones and AI are increasingly being used in forest ecology to gather and analyse data, monitor, and protect wildlife, and track changes in the forest over time.


Drones equipped with cameras and sensors can capture high-resolution images and collect data on forest structure, vegetation, and wildlife, which can then be processed by AI algorithms to extract insights and trends. AI can also be used to classify and identify different species in the forest, helping ecologists to understand the diversity and distribution of wildlife better.


In addition, drones can be used for the monitoring and protection of wildlife by providing real-time information on their movements and behaviour, which can be used to prevent poaching and habitat destruction. They can also be used to detect and monitor forest fires and other threats, helping to protect the forest and its inhabitants.

  1. Forest Structure and Functioning: This research focuses on understanding the growth and development of forests, including the interactions between trees, understory vegetation, and the environment.

  2. Carbon Sequestration: This research examines how forests sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their biomass and soils, and the role forests play in mitigating climate change.

  3. Biodiversity and Wildlife Habitats: Forest ecology research in this area aims to understand the diversity of species and ecosystems within forests, and how they interact with each other and their environment.

  4. Forest Disturbances and Resilience: This research examines the impact of natural and human-induced disturbances on forest ecosystems, including fires, droughts, deforestation, and climate change, and how forests respond and recover.

  5. Restoration Ecology: This research focuses on understanding the best methods for restoring degraded or damaged forests to their original conditions, and the role of forest restoration in conservation and climate change mitigation.

  6. Forest Management: This research explores the best practices for sustainable forest management, including the use of natural resources, fire management, and the effects of logging and other human activities on forests.

Further, we will discuss some of the key applications of drone technology and AI in forest ecology and their potential benefits and limitations.


Benefits of Drone Technology and AI in Forest Ecology

  • Forest Inventory and Mapping

Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors can capture high-resolution images and data of forests. This data can be used to create accurate and detailed maps of forests and the species that inhabit them. LiDAR sensors use laser beams to scan the forest canopy and generate a detailed 3D model of the forest, allowing ecologists to study the vertical structure of the forest and the distribution of different species.


AI algorithms can be used to analyse these images and data to identify different species of trees and estimate their biomass, which is essential for determining the carbon sequestration potential of a forest. In addition, drones can be used to survey large areas of forests quickly, which is crucial for monitoring changes in forest cover over time and for tracking the spread of invasive species.

  • Forest Health Monitoring

Drones equipped with cameras and sensors can be used to monitor the health of forests, detect signs of stress and disease, and track the progress of restoration efforts. AI algorithms can be used to analyse images taken by drones and detect changes in the colour and structure of trees, which can indicate the presence of diseases, pests, and other environmental stressors. This information can be used to guide targeted management efforts and to prevent the spread of diseases and pests to other parts of the forest.

  • Wildlife Monitoring

Drones equipped with cameras and thermal imaging sensors can be used to monitor wildlife populations and track their movements in forests. AI algorithms can be used to automatically identify and count different species of animals and track their movements over time. This information is crucial for understanding the health and behavior of wildlife populations and for guiding conservation efforts.

  • Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring

Drones equipped with thermal imaging sensors can be used to detect and monitor forest fires. AI algorithms can be used to analyse the thermal images taken by drones to detect hot spots and track the spread of fires in real-time. This information can be used to guide firefighting efforts and to prevent the spread of fires to other parts of the forest.


Overall, research in forest ecology is aimed at improving our understanding of the complex interactions between forests and their environment and supporting the sustainable management and conservation of these vital ecosystems.


Limitations and Challenges

While drone technology and AI offer many benefits and opportunities for forest ecology, they are not without limitations and challenges. One major challenge is the cost of drones and the technical expertise required to operate them. In addition, drone technology and AI algorithms can only provide information on what they are designed to detect, and they may miss important ecological information that is not captured by their sensors. Another challenge is the accuracy of AI algorithms, which can vary depending on the quality and quantity of data used to train them. This is particularly true for complex systems like forests, where there is a large amount of variability and complexity in the species, structures, and processes that are being studied.


To summarize, drone technology and AI have the potential to revolutionize the way forests are monitored and managed. However, it is essential to recognize their limitations and to use them in combination with other methods and technologies to ensure that they provide accurate and comprehensive information on the ecology of forests. By leveraging the unique capabilities of these technologies, we can gain a deeper understanding of the complex systems that make up our forests and take more effective steps to protect and conserve them.


Future Scope and Conclusion

Drone technology and (AI) have the potential to revolutionize the field of forest ecology by providing new tools and insights for forest monitoring and management. With continuous improvement and development in the field of technology, we can improve the prediction of structural diversity with the help of a two-stream deep learning model. These drones can be controlled with the help of drone compatible software ArduPilot and its compatible boards that act as a flight controllers. These autonomous UAVs can also be accompanied by other similar drones that aid in firefighting response over a large affected area. For communication between these drones, ArduPilot can be utilised. The sensor data from these devices can be collected via the XBee Pro modules through a “cluster network,” where there is a single PAN Coordinator which represents the base station and different drones in a cluster act as Full Function Devices (routers) which further relay information to Reduced Function Devices (sensors, controllers, activators, etc.). For a better data processing and recognition process, the Nvidia Jetson nano will be added to the model. This model will work on neural networks which will be trained on the data collected from the forest covers. Additionally, it is found that a swarm of drones would be more effective for future monitoring purposes.


Overall, the future of drone technology and AI in forest ecology is very promising. With continued development and innovation, these technologies have the potential to significantly improve our understanding of forest ecosystems and help us to better manage and protect these valuable resources.


References

  1. S. Roy, S. Bose, K. Harper, V. Jaiswal and M. Bansal, "Drone Assisted Forest Structural Classification of Kejimkujik National Park using Deep Learning," 2022 International Conference on Computing, Communication, and Intelligent Systems (ICCCIS), Greater Noida, India, 2022, pp. 703-707.

  2. Zhang J, Hu J, Lian J, Fan Z, Ouyang X, Ye W. Seeing the forest from drones: Testing the potential of lightweight drones as a tool for long-term forest monitoring. Biological Conservation. 2016 Jun 1;198:60-9.

  3. Lowman MD, Wittman PK. Forest canopies: methods, hypotheses, and future directions. Annual review of ecology and systematics. 1996 Jan 1:55-81.

  4. Tang L, Shao G. Drone remote sensing for forestry research and practices. Journal of Forestry Research. 2015 Dec;26(4):791-7.

  5. Barlow HB. Unsupervised learning. Neural computation. 1989 Sep 1;1(3):295-311.

  6. Behera DK, Raj AB. Drone detection and classification using deep learning. In2020 4th International Conference on Intelligent Computing and Control Systems (ICICCS) 2020 May 13 (pp. 1012-1016). IEEE.

  7. Roy S, Gulati G. ENVIRONMENTAL MONITORING VIA DRONE.

  8. Shorten C, Khoshgoftaar TM. A survey on image data augmentation for deep learning. Journal of big data. 2019 Dec;6(1):1-48.

  9. https://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1-s2.0-S2214317322000087-gr5_lrg.jpg

  10. https://aiforgood.itu.int/event/how-can-ai-help-protect-and-sustain-global-forest-ecosystems/#:~:text=The%20combination%20of%20strong%20data,governments%20and%20citizens%20to%20threats.

Related Posts

See All

Deepfake and AI: To Be or Not To Be

"No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it" – Albert Einstein What is Deepfake? Tech companies like...

Kommentare


Recent Insights
bottom of page