Polar bear population estimates based on satellite images are similar to aerial estimates, according to a study published July 9, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Seth Stapleton from United States Geological Survey and colleagues.
The potentially severe impacts of climate change in the Arctic may threaten regional wildlife. Scientists trying to develop efficient and effective wildlife monitoring techniques to track Arctic populations face great challenges, including the remoteness and associated logistical constraints of accessing wildlife. In this study, scientists evaluated high-resolution satellite imagery to track the distribution and abundance of polar bears on a small island in northern Canada in an attempt to develop a tool to monitor these difficult to reach populations. Specifically, the authors examined satellite images of the island with a high density of bears, during the ice-free summer and compared the images to aerial and ground surveys collected on different dates.
The estimate of ~90 bears based on satellite imagery was similar to an abundance estimate of ~100 bears made from an aerial survey conducted a few days earlier. These findings support satellite imagery as a tool for monitoring polar bears on land, which could potentially be applied to other Arctic wildlife. The authors suggest that further automated detection developments and testing in different landscapes may provide information about benefits for large-scale application of the technology.
In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available paper: http://dx.
Citation: Stapleton S, LaRue M, Lecomte N, Atkinson S, Garshelis D, et al. (2014) Polar Bears from Space: Assessing Satellite Imagery as a Tool to Track Arctic Wildlife. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101513. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0101513
Funding: Funding for this research was provided by the Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative of the U.S. Geological Survey, Ecosystems Mission Area, Wildlife Program; the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; and the Government of Nunavut. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interest: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.