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A new use of technology to solve an old problem: Estimating the population size of a burrow nesting seabird

A new use of technology to solve an old problem: Estimating the population size of a burrow nesting seabird

Plos one 13(9): E0202094

Estimating the population of burrow-nesting seabirds is a challenging task, as human presence in the colony creates disturbances and can damage burrows and occupants. Here, we present a novel method using aerial photographs taken with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to estimate the population size of a burrow-nesting seabird, the Black-vented Shearwater (Puffinus opisthomelas), on Natividad Island, Mexico. Our results provide a census of burrows in the colony, with very low detection error (5.6%). This is greater accuracy compared to other methods based on extrapolating results from sample plots to total colony area. We then combined this burrow census with ground truth data on occupancy to estimate population size. We obtained a population estimate of 37,858 and 46,322 breeding pairs for 2016 and 2017 respectively. The proposed method provides a cost effective and repeatable approach for monitoring numbers of burrows occupied in a colony, thereby enabling easier and faster estimates of population trends. We suggest this method can be valid for other burrow-nesting species in habitats without dense vegetation cover.

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Accession: 065690536

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PMID: 30216342

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0202094

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