Drones help map their invasive plant species

The University of Szeged (SZTE) and the Agricultural Science Research Center are preparing a web map of the distribution of invasive plant species with the involvement of hikers and nature conservation NGOs. The current biggest challenge of Hungarian nature conservation is biological invasion. In addition to the conservation of habitats and the protection of native species, the control of aggressively spreading floodplain plants is also an important task for the health status of the population. Ragweed is the best known of the plants, mostly introduced or introduced from other continents, but pollen from other invasive species is also allergenic. The proliferation of invasive crops has increased in floodplains in recent years, and as a result, the risk of floods has also increased.

Biological invasion is an extremely rapid process. Nature conservation, flood protection and public health professionals have a chance to solve this extremely serious environmental and nature protection problem only if they can clearly see the extent of Hungary’s invasive infestation and its current spatial characteristics, if they can identify infection hotspots and species distribution routes. The establishment of the National GIS Database of Invasive Species for this purpose is one of the goals of the research group established in September under the leadership of the Department of Natural Geography and Geoinformatics of the University of Szeged and the Institute of Soil Science and Agrochemistry of the Agricultural Research Center. Geographers, geoinformatics, ecologists, and soil and agricultural professionals would help with national-scale spatial, nature and environmental, flood, and forestry planning with data published on a web map, drawing attention to the importance of the problem.

One of the professional antecedents of the project was an article published by the researchers of SZTE in the scientific journal Plants, in which the range of geographical factors determining the spread of silkworm in the Southern Great Plain and the weight of environmental variables causing invasion were presented. The members of the research group started the production of digital maps showing the spatial presence of the six most common invasive plant species in Hungary – the silkworm, the narrow – leaved silver tree, the goldenrod, the pawn, the idol tree and the acacia. The terrestrial data are supplemented by satellite and remote sensing data, as well as by GIS analysis of drone recordings. In addition, community data collected in cooperation with hikers and nature conservation NGOs is also expected through community – mobile application.

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