Researchers use UAVs to track insect dispersal patterns

Drone or Unmanned Ariel Vehicle

In a paper to be released soon, researchers tell how they used drones to track migration patterns of pests.

“This research will help us quickly determine habitat preference and dispersal patterns for newly detected invasive insect species,” says University of Missouri Extension field crops entomologist Kevin Rice. That information can help farmers decide how to treat for insect pests, which cost an estimated $120 billion annually in economic loss.

“Detecting Invasive Insects With Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” tells how research team members tracked insect travel patterns using specially fitted drones. They marked insects with fluorescent powders and released them into fields.

UAVs equipped with sensors, lightweight ultraviolet lights and cameras flew over fields. They tracked and recorded the travel patterns of marked insects. Researchers downloaded the data for review.

For more than a century, researchers used a time-consuming process to manually track insects. Less than 5 percent of marked insects were recaptured using this process. The new technology tracks more insects efficiently, accurately and with less labor, Rice says.  “Our system can detect real target insects in field conditions with high precision,” he says.

In previous research, Rice described the novel method to detect fluorescent-marked insects using hand-held UV lasers with focusable lenses. This allows the beam to be widened for a larger search area and detection distances up to 40 meters. It also allows scanning in tree canopies and water areas that previously could not be accessed.

Researchers examined the dispersal rates of invasive species such as the fast-moving brown marmorated stink bug and the slow-moving emerald ash borer. They also considered the influence of wind and temperature during insect movement.

Scientists have long studied how invasive species travel from their native environments to new habitats. Invasive insects affect food security, public health, economic interests, and native species biodiversity, Rice says.

In addition to Rice, team members include Brian Stumph, Miguel Hernandez Virto and Henry Medeiros of Marquette University in Milwaukee; and Amy Tabb, Scott Wolford and Tracy Leskey with the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station in West Virginia.

Read the full paper at