Aerial imaging pinpoints diseased forest trees

British researchers have successfully used remote sensing technology to identify trees affected by Phytophthora ramorum.

Uninfected (left) vs. infected plots - image: University of Leicester
Uninfected (left) vs. infected plots - image: University of Leicester

LiDAR (light detection and ranging) maps collected using laser sensors supplied by aerial mapping company Bluesky have for the first time been used to successfully pinpoint individual larch trees affected by Phytophthora ramorum.

Professor Heiko Balzter of the University of Leicester said: "We hope that better ways of monitoring the outbreaks and spread of diseases in our forests will help the Forestry Commission and private land owners to respond more effectively to such outbreaks."

When trees show disease symptoms of defoliation and dieback, these show up as irregularities across the canopy. Sample plots of two study sites in Wales were assessed using different segmentation algorithms to detect these.

LiDAR has been used extensively to derive canopy height models, which form the basis of Bluesky’s National Tree Map. But its use to identify individual trees affected by diseases "has, until now, been underutilised", according to lead author of the study Chloe Barnes.

Balzter added: "University research in close collaboration with companies like Bluesky provides huge opportunities for turning research outcomes into real-world applications."

The research is published in the journal Remote Sensing.

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