How drones are helping map Huon pines, Tasmania’s ancient giant trees

Trees shown from above

A team of scientists in Tasmania has found a way to spot the “fingerprint” of Huon Pine amongst surrounding vegetation, based on the way it reflects light.

Recent bushfires have highlighted the need for accurate mapping to help protect Tasmania’s most fire vulnerable species. 6 per cent of Tasmania’s World Wilderness Heritage Area burned in 2018, including fire sensitive areas that will likely never recover. Part of the challenge of protecting these rare, fire-vulnerable species is that we don’t know where they all are.

Vegetation mapping for Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage areas began in 1990. Some information is collected on foot, but most of the mapping is based on interpretations of images taken from aircraft. It’s tricky to pick out specific trees and plants from so high above.

There are subtle differences in the way every species of tree and plant reflects light, so that they each have a kind of spectral ‘fingerprint’. The team have developed a computer algorithm to analyse every pixel in imagery obtained using hyper spectral sensors, a special type of camera that can capture 170 bands of light within each image rather than just the red, green and blue that humans see, to see these ‘fingerprints”.

In the future, the team is hoping that the technique could be applied to map other species — allowing them to monitor the biodiversity of a region and the impacts of climate change.

Read more about it here!