March 23, 2017

Researchers with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the University of Minnesota Extension are turning to the skies to help spot and stop invasive plants from spreading across the state. A new project is examining the capacity of drones to help scientists find areas of the state that are being destroyed by Oriental bittersweet.

Oriental bittersweet is an invasive vine that is wrecking numerous forested areas in the Twin Cities metro area and southeastern Minnesota, including Memorial Park in Red Wing. The vines spread into tree canopies and then smother and break trees.

Oriental bittersweet vines can be controlled with herbicides; however, finding the vines is labor intensive and can be challenging on steep terrain. That’s why researchers hope drones can help in the effort.

“It would be more efficient to develop a way to survey and detect bittersweet from the air,” said Monika Chandler, MDA Invasive Species Specialist. “This would give us a great leg up in containing and controlling this invasive vine.”

Tests currently being conducted will help researchers determine the appropriate sensor to use, calculate the impact of light conditions, and find the best flying pattern.

“This research applies leading-edge technology to a real-world problem. Early detection is a critical component of invasive species management and testing drones adds to the tools in our invasive species toolbox,” said Angela Gupta, Extension educator in natural resources management and utilization.

If successful, scientists could use drones to search for Oriental bittersweet in bluffs, river valleys, and other hilly areas. Knowing the exact location and size of the area covered by the vines would save time and resources as officials try to remove the invasive plants.

The drone research project is a joint venture between the MDA, U of M, Conservation Corps of Minnesota, and St. Croix River Association, and is funded through a grant by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources.


MDA Contact
Allen Sommerfeld, MDA Communications 

U of M Extension Contact
Allison Sandve, Media & Public Relations Manager