Our PhD students will be busy over the next few months collecting data during their summer fieldwork campaigns. You can read a little bit about the summer plans of one of our students, Conor Strong below.
Invasive species cause ecological or economic harm when introduced to new environments. To limit these effects, novel management and control techniques must be developed. My project is focused upon the application of small-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) to detect and monitor the invasive aquatic plant species Australian swamp stonecrop (Crassula helmsii) in wetlands.
My fieldwork this year will involve undertaking aerial surveys using a SenseFly eBee fixed-wing sUAS equipped with a multispectral sensor. These flights will be carried out on the Pevensey Levels in East Sussex, UK. The study location is a 4,300-hectare grazing marsh habitat that is both a protected Ramsar site and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). C.helmsii is present within the extensive ditch networks that occur on the Levels, threatening the aquatic plant and invertebrate communities they support.
I will be undertaking sUAS surveys on a monthly basis over the summer as part of a temporal study investigating the optimum time of year to survey for C. helmsii. I will also be using sUAS to monitor the recovery rate of C. helmsii following mechanical treatment. After removal from ditches by the Environment Agency in November 2018, aerial imagery is being analysed to determine subsequent regrowth through estimation of percentage cover. In addition to utilising sUAS, my fieldwork this year will also involve carrying out ground surveys of aquatic plant communities within the ditches. The results of these surveys will help to both validate aerial imagery and investigate the effects of C. helmsii colonisation on native aquatic plant communities.
The fieldwork that is being undertaken over the summer will contribute towards my final thesis. In addition, it is anticipated that the outcomes will help to inform land owners and managers of the most effective management approach for invasive C. helmsii in wetland environments.