Skip to main content

RIEL alumna

Dr Rebecca Rogers

Dr Rebecca Rogers sitting on the ground next to a 5-rotor drone

Research project title

Harnessing the potential of weather surveillance radar to monitor waterbirds in Australia

Abstract

Weather surveillance radars are permanent radars designed to scan the airspace to detect and quantify precipitation. Due to their indiscriminate scanning method, ecologists can repurpose the data they collect to detect the movement and distribution patterns of a variety of flying animals. However, the data collected by these systems are rarely utilised in Australia. In my thesis, I reviewed the current literature and infrastructure in the Southern Hemisphere and identified the factors currently limiting its use for ecological research in the region. I then focussed on the Australian context, using the Magpie Goose (Anseranus semipalmata) population in the Northern Territory of Australia as a case study. I assessed the detectability of this species on a local weather radar and the availability of data for the population on the Australian network. I then quantified the distribution and movement of this population using weather surveillance radar and compared the results with aerial survey data and satellite biotelemetry. I found that, there is a significant gap in Australia for radar-based studies of wildlife and this is likely driven by limitations in the availability of data. However, improvements to the accessibility of these data have made it a viable option for wildlife applications. I found that weather radar can detect and monitor large aggregations of Magpie Geese. Combining weather radar data and GPS biotelemetry can improve our understanding of the movement and space use of large-bodied, flocking waterbirds. Supplementing aerial surveys of waterbirds with weather radar data could reduce survey costs and provide more targeted data collection. My thesis also provides the first example of weather surveillance radar being used to monitor a bird population in Australia.

Research interests

Rebecca’s research interests are in animal behaviour and technoecology. That is, she is interested in using emerging technology to solve complex ecological data problems that improve our understanding of wildlife, the environment and our lives. This includes remotely-piloted aircraft systems (drones), GPS and satellite tracking devices, weather radar and more. Since completing her PhD she has worked as a postdoctoral researcher and now a VET Lecturer in Aviation (remote pilot) at CDU, conducting training and research with drones.