Date of this Version
Scientific Reports (2023) 13:10385
Visible and thermal images acquired from drones (unoccupied aircraft systems) have substantially improved animal monitoring. Combining complementary information from both image types provides a powerful approach for automating detection and classification of multiple animal species to augment drone surveys. We compared eight image fusion methods using thermal and visible drone images combined with two supervised deep learning models, to evaluate the detection and classification of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), domestic cow (Bos taurus), and domestic horse (Equus caballus). We classified visible and thermal images separately and compared them with the results of image fusion. Fused images provided minimal improvement for cows and horses compared to visible images alone, likely because the size, shape, and color of these species made them conspicuous against the background. For white-tailed deer, which were typically cryptic against their backgrounds and often in shadows in visible images, the added information from thermal images improved detection and classification in fusion methods from 15 to 85%. Our results suggest that image fusion is ideal for surveying animals inconspicuous from their backgrounds, and our approach uses few image pairs to train compared to typical machine-learning methods. We discuss computational and field considerations to improve drone surveys using our fusion approach.
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