Integrated systems based on wireless sensor networks (WSNs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with electric propulsion are emerging as state-of-the-art solutions for large scale monitoring. Main advances stemming both from complex system architectures as well as powerful embedded computing and communication platforms, advanced sensing and networking protocols have been leveraged to prove the viability of this concept. The design of suitable algorithms for data processing, communication and control across previously disparate domains has thus currently become an intensive area of interdisciplinary research. The paper was focused on the collaborative aspects of UAV–WSN systems and the reference papers were analyzed from this point of view, on each functional module. The paper offers a timely review of recent advances in this area of critical interest with focus on a comparative perspective across multiple recent theoretical and applied contributions. A systematic approach is carried out in order to structure a unitary from conceptual design towards key implementation aspects. Focus areas are identified and discussed such as distributed data processing algorithms, hierarchical multi-protocol networking aspects and high level WSN–constrained UAV-control. Application references are highlighted in various domains such as environmental, agriculture, emergency situations and homeland security. Finally, a research agenda is outlined to advance the field towards tangible economic and social impact.