Habitat structural complexity is one of the most important factors in determining the makeup of biological communities. Recent advances in structure-from-motion and photogrammetry have resulted in a proliferation of 3D digital representations of habitats from which structural complexity can be measured. Little attention has been paid to quantifying the measurement errors associated with these techniques, including the variability of results under different surveying and environmental conditions. Such errors have the potential to confound studies that compare habitat complexity over space and time. This study evaluated the accuracy, precision, and bias in measurements of marine habitat structural complexity derived from structure-from-motion and photogrammetric measurements using repeated surveys of artificial reefs (with known structure) as well as natural coral reefs. We quantified measurement errors as a function of survey image coverage, actual surface rugosity, and the morphological community composition of the habitat-forming organisms (reef corals). Our results indicated that measurements could be biased by up to 7.5% of the total observed ranges of structural complexity based on the environmental conditions present during any particular survey. Positive relationships were found between measurement errors and actual complexity, and the strength of these relationships was increased when coral morphology and abundance were also used as predictors. The numerous advantages of structure-from-motion and photogrammetry techniques for quantifying and investigating marine habitats will mean that they are likely to replace traditional measurement techniques (e.g., chain-and-tape). To this end, our results have important implications for data collection and the interpretation of measurements when examining changes in habitat complexity using structure-from-motion and photogrammetry.
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- 3D habitat mapping
- coral ecology
- structural complexity