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UAVs improve detection of seasonal growth responses during post-fire shrubland recovery

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(1) We monitored post-fire shrubland recovery responses to changes in rainfall seasonality using a multi-year field experiment in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR) of South Africa. A primary objective was to test the utility of UAVs for monitoring ultra-fine-scale vegetation changes in the early post-fire context. (2) By comparison with detailed ground-based measurements, we showed that UAVs improved detection of integrated community growth responses, given that the appropriate relative radiometric normalisation techniques were applied to repeated imagery data. UAVs supported ground-based findings and, moreover, helped to identify previously undetected growth form responses. However, due to the limitations in detecting species-specific demographic changes, UAVs could not completely replace ground-based measurements. (3) Our combined UAV-based and ground-based monitoring approaches indicated strong coupling between post-fire shrubland recovery and seasonal rainfall patterns in the CFR but also demonstrated that sensitivity to rainfall seasonality could differ between neighbouring shrubland communities occurring on different soil types. (4) The careful integration of UAV-based and ground-based monitoring approaches provided the fullest understanding of early post-fire shrubland recovery patterns.

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The data used during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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Funding was generously provided by the NRF (93380 to AGW and 119125 to RA) and ACCESS groups (114696). Thank you to the Plant Conservation Unit for their contribution to the establishment of the Drie Kuilen rainfall manipulation experiment. JJvB was supported by a UCT Science Faculty Scholarship. We are grateful to the NCC and the Drie Kuilen Nature Reserve for providing access and support. Thank you to the many field assistants who were eager to help throughout the research process.


Funding was provided by National Research Foundation (Grant Nos. 93380, 119125), National Research Foundation (ACCESS) (Grant No. 114696).

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JJvB, AGW, MTH, RA and JS conceptualized the research. JJvB, MTH and AGW collected the data. JJvB processed the data and wrote the manuscript, with contributions from AGW, MTH, RA and JS.

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Correspondence to J. J. van Blerk.

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van Blerk, J.J., West, A.G., Smit, J. et al. UAVs improve detection of seasonal growth responses during post-fire shrubland recovery. Landsc Ecol 37, 3179–3199 (2022).

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