Democratizing macroecology: Integrating unoccupied aerial systems with the National Ecological Observatory Network

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Macroecology research seeks to understand ecological phenomena with causes and consequences that accumulate, interact, and emerge across scales spanning several orders of magnitude. Broad-extent, fine-grain information (i.e., high spatial resolution data over large areas) is needed to adequately capture these cross-scale phenomena, but these data have historically been costly to acquire and process. Unoccupied aerial systems (UAS or drones carrying a sensor payload) and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) make the broad-extent, fine-grain observational domain more accessible to researchers by lowering costs and reducing the need for highly specialized equipment. Integration of these tools can further democratize macroecological research, as their strengths and weaknesses are complementary. However, using these tools for macroecology can be challenging because mental models are lacking, thus requiring large up-front investments in time, energy, and creativity to become proficient. This challenge inspired a working group of UAS-using academic ecologists, NEON professionals, imaging scientists, remote sensing specialists, and aeronautical engineers at the 2019 NEON Science Summit in Boulder, Colorado, to synthesize current knowledge on how to use UAS with NEON in a mental model for an intended audience of ecologists new to these tools. Specifically, we provide (1) a collection of core principles for collecting high-quality UAS data for NEON integration and (2) a case study illustrating a sample workflow for processing UAS data into meaningful ecological information and integrating it with NEON data collected on the ground—with the Terrestrial Observation System—and remotely—from the Airborne Observation Platform. With this mental model, we advance the democratization of macroecology by making a key observational domain—the broad-extent, fine-grain domain—more accessible via NEON/UAS integration.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Democratizing macroecology: Integrating unoccupied aerial systems with the National Ecological Observatory Network
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4206
Volume 13
Issue 8
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
Description e4206, 26 p.
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