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Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation


John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

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Increased visitation to protected areas could have adverse impacts on the conservation values in the protected areas, and therefore effective visitor monitoring methods are needed to meet the complex management challenges that arise. Collecting data on human impacts is highly time consuming, thus requiring more effective tools that allow for high-quality and long-term measurements. In this study, we show how unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e. UAV or drones) could be used to monitor tourism impacts in protected areas. Tourism has boomed in national parks in Norway in recent years, such as in Jotunheimen National Park for which this study applies. We test the use of drones on a site where new tourist facilities will be established to set a baseline to identify future changes. We demonstrate how drones could help protected area management by monitoring visitor use patterns and commonly associated impacts such as trail condition (width and depth), vegetation structure and disturbances, informal trail proliferation, trampling, and trash and other impacts along the trails. We assessed accuracy and reliability compared with intensive field measurements of impacts and found low-cost drones to be effective in mapping the study area with a resolution of 0.5 cm/pixel: drone derived trail measurements were comparable to traditional measurements with a negligible divergence on trail width measurements and a consistent 1.05 cm divergence on trail depth measurements that can be corrected with a few validation points. In addition, we created a high-resolution vegetation classification map that could be used as a baseline for monitoring impacts. We conclude that drones can effectively contribute to visitor monitoring by reducing time spent in the field and by providing high-resolution time series that could be used as baseline to measure tourism impacts on conservation values in protected areas.