Invasive plants are non-native species that can spread rapidly, leading to detrimental economic, ecological, or environmental impact. In aquatic systems such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California, USA, management agencies use manned aerial vehicles (MAV) imaging spectroscopy missions to map and track annual changes in invasive aquatic plants.
Advances in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and sensor miniaturization are enabling higher spatial resolution species mapping, which is promising for early detection of invasions before they spread over larger areas. This study compared maps made from UAV-based imaging spectroscopy with the manned airborne imaging spectroscopy-derived maps that are currently produced for monitoring invasive aquatic plants in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Concurrent imagery was collected using the MAV mounted HyMap sensor and the UAV mounted Nano-Hyperspec at a wetland study site and classification maps generated using random forest models were compared.
Classification accuracies were comparable between the Nano- and HyMap-derived maps, with the Nano-derived map having a slightly higher overall accuracy. Additionally, the higher resolution of the Nano imagery allowed detection of patches of water hyacinth present in the study site that the HyMap could not. However, it would not be feasible to operate the Nano as a replacement to HyMap at scale despite its improved detection capabilities due to the high costs associated with overcoming area coverage limitations.
Overall, UAV-based imaging spectroscopy provides comparable or improved capability, and we suggest it could be used to supplement existing monitoring programs by focusing on target areas of high ecologic or economic priority.