Evaluation of infrared thermography as a sampling tool for detecting wildlife

This topic is being investigated by Jessie Mckee for her Honours degree. Specifically, she is seeking to understand the limitations surrounding the use of thermal imaging in the field. As remote sensing systems, infrared thermal imaging cameras allow users to passively attain information otherwise unattainable using just human vision. Thus, a new sampling technique for cryptic, rare, nocturnal and otherwise hard to detect species may be upon us. Their seldom use in the field for ecological/ biological studies has been largely successful, yet still impeded by many ‘unknowns’ regarding its use. Specifically, the efficiency of such systems under varying external parameters such as vegetation structure/type, time of day and weather conditions is questionable, and thus to be investigated.

A physical model representative of a grassland-like environment has been established, and will be used to investigate the effect of distance and camera angle on detectability; this will be of particular use by allowing those variables to be investigated individually, without the potential influence of environmental factors such as temperature and sunlight.

Upon completion of this, a series of line transect surveys in different vegetative environments will be completed at Samford Ecological Research Facility (SERF). Heated models randomly allocated at distances along the transect will be searched for by a ‘blind’ experimenter, using the thermal imaging system. The angle the camera is held will alternate between 30, 45 and 90 degrees. Distance from the transect will also be alternated between 2, 5 and 10 meters.

It is hoped that by understanding the influence (if any) these basic operating features and environmental settings has on detectability, a standardised protocol for the systems use in the field can be developed. Attaining such information will allow future scientists to determine the applicability and efficiency of such systems for their chosen study, prior to financial or time investment.