Sulaimon O Lawal, PhD student

Ecological impacts of drones

The past decade has seen massive growth in the use of unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs, aka drones). And as urban applications, such as traffic surveillance and parcel delivery, come online, we can expect the skies over cities to become increasingly crowded with drones.

To mitigate risks to aviation and privacy concerns, jurisdictions implement diverse legal and other restrictions on their use. In general, these rules only consider human impacts, even though drones arguably pose potential conservation threats. These threats include the risk of collision and the sublethal effects related to the (acoustic and visual) disturbance that a drone represents.

Indeed, the biodiversity-impacts of drones have been studied and reviewed, generating evidence of detrimental effects. But in nearly all studies, the focal animals have been on the ground or in the water. So, there is almost no knowledge of impacts in the airspace, which is where animals are most likely to interact with drones. This research gap—the need to understand and conserve aerial habitats (aeroconservation)—has been pointed out in the literature.

Sulaimon will study how recreational drones affect flying animals in a before-after-control-impact experiment. The introduction of an urban gradient will facilitate a test of the hypothesis that impacts attenuate with urban development (as urban animals are more habituated to high levels of disturbance, including light and noise pollution and aviation). The taxonomic focus (bats, birds and/or insects) remains undefined, as Sulaimon is first conducting a meta-analysis of the ecological-impact literature and writing his dissertation proposal, which he will defend in August 2024.