NIU Biologists Use Drones To Monitor Bison’s Effect On Nachusa Grasslands

Monitor bison with drone

[Editor’s Note: Bison were reintroduced to the restored prairie two years ago.]

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A study by Northern Illinois University conservation biologists is using newer technology in the field to monitor bison’s effect on vegetation in the Nachusa Grasslands near Dixon.

NIU ecologists are flying drones over the grasslands to observe how bison eating habits affect the prairie after the animals were re-introduced to the restored prairie two years ago.

NIU Asst. Prof. Holly Jones, a conservation biologist, says the hypothesis is that bison like grass and usually won’t eat wildflowers. That kind of patchy landscape could bring in additional wildlife.

“So we know a lot about what bison do where they’ve been present for many, many, many years,” Jones said, “but we don’t know what’s going to happen when we re-introduce them into a system that is itself undergoing restoration.”

Jones says the options for using drones to pursue ecological research are “limitless.”

“And this is a really exciting time to be developing these sorts of new technologies,” she said, “and using these new technologies to answer larger-scale ecological questions that we never would’ve been able to answer without the advent of remote sensing and drones.”

Jones says little obstacles, like her and her students taking written pilots exams to operate the drones, were well worth it for the research that can be accomplished with remote sensing.


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