RMIT researcher Phil Wilkes has developed a new technique that is set to significantly improve the way forests and woody vegetation ecosystems are characterised.
It will enable more accurate reporting on forest structures worldwide.
Wilkes carried out his research at RMIT in Australia and University of Twente in the Netherlands, where he was recently the first doctoral student to be awarded a PhD double-badged by both universities.
With a focus on the way forest data is captured using sensing equipment, Wilkes’ new processing methods can be implemented worldwide to enable a more reliable assessment of forest ecosystems.
The researcher said his methods, which are transferable across different forest types, can be put into practice by governments to allow for more accurate reporting as part of international monitoring and reporting obligations across forests.
“Governments need to properly understand the structure of their forests, such as tree height and canopy structure, for climate change policy, sustainable forest management and bushfire management – an issue particularly relevant in Australia,” Wilkes said.
“Currently, forests around the world are measured using a network of forest inventory plots that are revisited periodically by forest scientists to extrapolate an impression of overall structure.
“It’s an approach that’s comprised of a sparse sample.
“It means variance in forest structure may not be captured, which is particularly relevant for dynamic native forests where variability in forest structure can be high.”
As part of a joint research project funded by the CRC for Spatial Information, the Victorian State government and RMIT (Geospatial Science), Wilkes created an open-source software package that implements his newly developed techniques for forest categorisation. It has already been taken up by several state land management agencies in Australia.
For Wilkes, the global experience through the double-badged PhD program “enabled access to one of the world’s leading bodies on spatial data and remote sensing” at the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at University of Twente.
“The double-badged PhD also meant I could access the expertise of RMIT researchers in the field as well as the strong industry and research networks RMIT holds in Australia, particularly around research project funding,” he said.
Wilkes’ supervisors at RMIT, within the University’s School of Science, included Professor Simon Jones and Dr Lola Suarez, as well as Dr Andrew Haywood (Victorian State government ) and Professor Andrew Skidmore (University of Twente).
RMIT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation and Vice-President, Professor Calum Drummond, commended the work of Wilkes as well as acknowledged the University’s first doctoral student through the double badged program.
“This marks a significant milestone for RMIT’s research collaboration with University of Twente,” Drummond said.
“Our double-badged program presents an excellent opportunity for PhD candidates to gain valuable exposure to global research networks and expertise and we look forward to building this research relationship in the coming years.”
Wilkes’ research was supported by grants awarded to the School of Science Centre for Remote Sensing, Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) as well as an Australian Postgraduate Award through the Federal Government.
Story: Karen Matthews