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Researchers Using Aerial Systems to Map ‘Tasty’ Sagebrush

Researchers Using Aerial Systems to Map ‘Tasty’ Sagebrush

Jennifer Forbey prepares an unmanned aerial system for launch in the Idaho desert.

Boise State researcher Jennifer Forbey prepares an unmanned aerial system for launch in the Idaho desert .

A joint research team from Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Washington State University will conduct research on sagebrush habitat using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in Lemhi County July 18-20.

The work is part of collaborative research programs funded by the National Science Foundation, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Idaho Department of Fish and Game to understand why pygmy rabbits and sage-grouse choose certain types of sagebrush for food and not others, and how those choices influence how these animals use habitats.

The researchers will fly a small quad-copter over sagebrush patches at 25-50 feet above ground on BLM lands to capture images of sagebrush plants. The copter will carry a camera that records reflected light in many different color bands in contrast to the three bands of color (red, green and blue) that make up regular photos.

The researchers are testing if the multi-band images can help identify and map different types of sagebrush shrubs from the air that differ in how palatable they are as food to wildlife. Although sagebrush shrubs look very similar to humans, they can differ widely in the chemicals that make them tasty or not. The chemicals that make sagebrush taste good reflect light differently, and those differences can be detected with special cameras.

The UAS images may help researchers “see” sagebrush plants the way animals like rabbits or sage-grouse see them. This research will help identify which sagebrush plants are most valuable to wildlife and may ultimately contribute to restoring and remotely monitoring sagebrush plants over time and across the landscape.



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