Measuring the influence of unmanned aerial vehicles on Adélie penguins
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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become a useful tool in polar research. While their performance is already proven, little is known about their impact on wildlife. To assess the disturbance caused on the penguins, flights with a UAV were conducted over an Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) colony. Vertical and horizontal flights were performed between 10 and 50 m in altitude. Penguins’ reactions were video-recorded, and the behavioural response was used to indicate the level of disturbance. During any flight mode, disturbance increased immediately after takeoff and remained elevated at all altitudes between 20 and 50 m. When the UAV descended below 20 m, the disturbance increased further with almost all individuals being vigilant. Only at these low altitudes, vertical flights caused an even higher level of disturbance than horizontal ones. Repetitions of horizontal overflights showed no short-term habituation occurring. Since the results are only valid for the specific UAV model used, we recommend a more extensive approach with different UAV specifications. As the highest flight altitudes already caused detectable but not subjectively visible responses, we also recommend to regard subjective impressions of disturbance with caution.
KeywordsAdélie penguin Unmanned aerial vehicle Drone Disturbance Behaviour analysis Microcopter
The study was commissioned by the German Federal Environment Agency, Dessau-Rosslau, and funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (UFOPLAN 3713 12 101). We thank the personnel of the Bellingshausen Station for accommodation and support during our expedition. Logistic support was kindly provided by Alejo Contreras and Aerovias DAP on-site and by Alfred-Wegener-Institute in general. Martin Senf helped in the field. Thanks go to Eric Donahue and an anonymous reviewer for extensive language corrections.
Compliance with ethical standards
All applicable international, national and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.
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