Early detection of invasive species allows for a rapid response and a greater opportunity to eradicate or control invasive pests. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is assessing the capability of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, to detect plant pests. The drones being used are equipped with cameras that take photographs, video, and send live, real-time footage to a computer monitor for analysis.
An Aeryon Skyranger unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flown by Airvu UAV Solutions is one type of drone that has been used in experiments to assess the practicality and utility of drones for detecting invasive species.
Asian Longhorned Beetle
The CFIA conducted trials to determine the effectiveness of using drones to detect simulated Asian longhorned beetle (ALHB) oviposition pits and exit holes. Different methodologies were employed to scan trees for simulated signs of attack.
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid
The capacity to detect evidence of hemlock woolly adelgid in the Niagara Gorge was attempted, however, extreme wind and poor weather conditions posed major challenges in obtaining adequate footage for analysis. This technology may be used to assess the detection capacity for this pest if new populations are confirmed in the future.
Actual drone footage allowing detection of simulated ALB oviposition pits (red circle)
Limitations Using Drones
Currently there are a number of issues that limit the application of this technology for detection of forest pests:
Weather conditions, particularly wind, can make flying difficult
Lighting (seasonal, daily and aspect) can affect visibility of signs of attack
Tree form and structure can sometimes make navigation difficult
Permit and approval processes are required to use the drones
The CFIA will continue to explore opportunities to assess the use of drones and other technologies for early detection of invasive plants and forest pests in collaboration with its partners.
Thank you to contributions from the CFIA for the development of this article