3D measurements to explain forest structure and function

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Mathias Disney

Geography, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Philip Lewis

Geography, UCL

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Project Description:

How much does a tree weigh? And what about a forest? What makes a tree the size and shape it is? How does tree structure, the size, location and orientation of wood and leaf elements, interact with and/or shape environment to partition water, light and nutrients etc, to drive growth and development? Can we measure structure in detail and infer the relationship to larger-scale form and function? Can we relate detailed measurements to much larger-scale observations from aircraft and satellites via Earth Observation? These questions are extremely important and interesting aspects of individual tree, and forest growth, and determine, among other things, how much carbon trees can take up via photosynthesis, how they may respond to changing environments.

Fascinating new approaches to answering these questions are being opened up by detailed new 3D measurements from terrestrial laser scanning (TLS). Leading work on this is being done here at UCL, and a large dataset of observations across the tropics, temperate and other (eg urban) regions have been collected. This project will: exploit these data to explore and understand these relationships between form and function; test current theories relating form and function; develop new metrics to assess form and structure, within and between species and sites; exploit data from new satellites, aircraft and even drones. The work will involve wide collaboration with international colleagues. The project is suited to a candidate with a strong background in quantitative methods (physics, maths, engineering, computing etc) but also someone with a quantitative ecological background.

Policy Impact of Research:

Understanding the function of trees is vital to predicting the response of forests to human impacts, including climate change, deforestation and degradation but also for quantifying biodiversity, habitat and resilience. These issues are central to important international policy initiatives (e.g. REDD+) and would be addressed by this project.

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