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Dam removal is a river restoration technique that has complex landscape-level ecological impacts. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are emerging as tools that enable relatively affordable, repeatable, and objective ecological assessment approaches that provide a holistic perspective of restoration impacts and can inform future restoration efforts. In this work, we use a consumer-grade UAV, structure-from-motion (SfM) photogrammetry, and machine learning (ML) to evaluate geomorphic and vegetation changes pre-/post-dam removal, and discuss how the technology enhanced our monitoring of the restoration project. We compared UAV evaluation methods to conventional boots-on-ground methods throughout the Bellamy River Reservoir (Dover, NH, USA) pre-/post-dam removal. We used a UAV-based vegetation classification approach that used a support vector machine algorithm and a featureset composed of SfM-derived elevation and visible vegetation index values to map other, herbaceous, shrub, and tree cover throughout the reservoir (overall accuracies from 83% to 100%), mapping vegetation succession as well as colonization of exposed sediments that occurred post-dam removal. We used SfM-derived topography and the vegetation classifications to map erosion and deposition throughout the reservoir, despite its heavily vegetated condition, and estimate volume changes post-removal. Despite some limitations, such as influences of refraction and vegetation on the SfM topography models, UAV provided information on post-dam removal changes that would have gone unacknowledged by the conventional ecological assessment approaches, demonstrating how UAV technology can provide perspective in restoration evaluation even in less-than-ideal site conditions for SfM. For example, the UAV provided perspective of the magnitude and extent of channel shape changes throughout the reservoir while the boots-on-ground topographic transects were not as reliable for detecting change due to difficulties in navigating the terrain. In addition, UAV provided information on vegetation changes throughout the reservoir that would have been missed by conventional vegetation plots due to their limited spatial coverage. Lastly, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented us from meeting to collect post-dam removal vegetation plot data. UAV enabled data collection that we would have foregone if we relied solely on conventional methods, demonstrating the importance of flexible and adaptive methods for successful restoration monitoring such as those enabled via UAV.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.