TROPICAL GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 39 ›› Issue (4): 604-615.doi: 10.13284/j.cnki.rddl.003154

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New Technology for Ecological Remote Sensing: Light, Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV)

Zhang Jing1,2, Sun Qianhui1,2, Ye Zhen3, Yang Mohan4, Zhao Xiaoxia5, Ju Yuanzhen3, Hu Tianyu1,2 and Guo Qinghua1,2   

  1. (1. State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China; 2. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China; 3. Chengdu University of Technology, State Key Laboratory of Geohazard Prevention and Geoenvironment Protection, Chengdu 610059, China; 4. Northeast Forestry University, School of Forestry, Harbin 150040, China; 5. School of Ecology and Environment, Inner Mongolia University, Hohhot 010000, China)
  • Online:2019-07-10 Published:2019-07-10


The foundation of ecological civilization construction is the acquisition of ecological remote sensing data. Traditional ecological data obtained on the basis of ground surveys are time-consuming, laborious, and cannot meet the requirements of large-scale data. However, satellite remote sensing data is inconvenient in obtaining ecological data in real time due to resolution and cycle problems. In recent years, light, small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), offering advantages of high flexibility and high resolution, have played an important role in the fields of agriculture, environment ecology, and remote sensing, subsequently becoming the backbone of ecological research. This paper summarizes the application potential of UAV remote sensing in ecological research from the aspects of research object, research scale, and ecological trend, both analyzing the advantages and limitations of different ecosystem applications and discussing the application trend of UAV remote sensing in ecological research in the future. As a result of software and hardware problems such as data standardization and endurance, UAV applications still have some limitations. With the trends of intelligent software and hardware for UAV and the background of ecological big data, the acquisition and processing of UAV data will become more comprehensive, flexible, rapid, and intelligent in the future; as a result, the emerging UAV remote sensing data will be able to better serve ecological research. The application trend of UAV remote sensing in ecological big data can be summarized in three aspects: scaling, sampling, and synergy. The use of UAV has not been able to achieve scale due to its hardware limitations; therefore, expanding its scope of operation is both a great challenge and an important application direction. Sampling can help researchers obtain information from a small sample square and estimate the corresponding regional information by referring to the sample square. Synergies, including cloud storage, multi-source data fusion, scientific data classification, and data standardization processing can help researchers use data effectively. With the wide applications of multi-source data fusion, UAV data will also be widely used in ecological remote sensing surveying, providing important data support for ecosystem status, ecological stability, biodiversity assessment, ecosystem monitoring, ecosystem management, as well as other related aspects in the future. At the same time, as the new data brought by the UAV has a specific resolution and scale, the traditional data indicators are no longer applicable. In order to make better use of UAV data, the establishment of new indicators of UAV data is also an urgently pending task. The 21st century is the era of information and big data; with the development of science, technology, and society, new technologies emerge in an endless stream. Through research of cutting-edge theories such as artificial intelligence ecology, ecological big data, ecological prediction, as well as the establishment of new indices of UAV data, new technologies will be able to better serve ecology.

Key words: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, ecosystems, ecological big data, lidar