Taking Flight Drones Intensify Preservation Endeavors

Drones have become a revolutionary tool that extends our reach beyond the limits of human exploration. While many are familiar with the possibilities of adventure photography or package delivery, the use of drones in conservation has become increasingly creative for field and laboratory workers.

As high-quality drones become more and more available and affordable, these versatile remote-controlled aerial vehicles are helping the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and its partners collect data and information that will help scientists and practitioner make conservation decisions on the ground regarding land management. Drones open a new era of Innovation, allowing us to monitor, study and protect ecosystems with unprecedented precision. Below, we explore the many ways in which drone technology has strengthened our work in partnership with other scientists, practitioner and partner organizations.

SAMPLING NEW HEIGHTS IN THE TREETOPS

In addition to advanced images and the speed at which you can quickly travel distances, drones can also be equipped with Accessories for creative conservation-specific applications, such as the recent research conducted at Ellsworth Creek Preserve. As part of a project funded by the NW Climate Adaptation Center, the Ramirez Lab at Reed College, in collaboration with TNC, studied how restoration work affects the resilience of forests and trees to an increase in stressors such as fires and drought that we are seeing with climate change.

Forest managers looking for a more detailed overview of tree health to evaluate restoration efforts need an overview of the physiological responses of trees, in particular the impact of restoration on tree water consumption. Aaron Ramirez, associate professor of Biology and environmental studies at Reed College, considers a tree’s water movement system essential for its resilience. “When you think about people, one of the mainfactor for us is our heart health, because our vascular system is essential to everything we do physiologically. Consider this a cardiology for trees. The vascular health of the trees is essential to everything they do, and it is one of the first places where problems arise, which gives us an earlier indicator than if we were just measuring growth or other measures,” says Ramirez.

One of the challenges in understanding the physiological responses of trees — their water consumption or their “vascular health,” as Ramirez puts it — is the collection of tissue samples. Historically, researchers could obtain samples by knocking down branches with guns or literally climbing trees — a massive obstacle in trees that can reach more than 300 feet high in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

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