Drone-based technology remotely assesses health of trees impacted by climate change

climate, cop26, climate change

The Ensminger Lab’s drone flight team has developed a technology that remotely assesses photosynthetic phenology and plant fitness (photo courtesy of Ensminger Lab)

Canada has nearly 362 million hectares of forest, but climate change is negatively impacting tree health and productivity. Trees planted today need to withstand future climate instability.

Enter Ingo Ensminger, an associate professor of biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and an innovative new technology that could provide further insights into tree health.  Ensminger’s lab  studies plant-environment interactions and the impact of climate change on metabolism and photosynthesis of plants from molecular to leaf, species and ecosystem level.

Ensminger and his team have developed a drone-based technology, dubbed the FastPheno project, that remotely assesses photosynthetic phenology and plant fitness.

“Most people who use drones in trees and forests try to measure height and the size of the canopy, they use drones for inventories,” he says. “Our goal is different – we try to assess health and fitness, and overall performance as indicated by the ability of vegetation to remove CO2 from the atmosphere when they photosynthesize and produce biomass.”

Ensminger  was recently awarded $4.7 million in funding for his FastPheno project by Genome Canada, an independent, federally funded not-for-profit.

“It is very rewarding to receive funding to develop and implement tools that will hopefully be used to help tree breeders and forest practitioners to identify trees that are resilient to climate change,” says Ensminger, who anticipates the tools will be used for tree improvement programs or to set targets for forest conservation and management.

Genome Canada’s Genomic Applications Partnership Program brings new applied genomics solutions to issues facing Canadians, and supports collaborations in forestry and other sectors.

The unique technology enables them to distinguish the performance of thousands of trees, and researchers can use the approach to detect drought stress control on photosynthesis in natural forests.

“All this is based on the optical fingerprint of vegetation,” Ensminger explains. “This fingerprint is derived by measurements of leaf spectral reflectance. Leaf spectral reflectance is highly variable, and it can be used as a plant health indicator, because it changes upon exposure to drought stress or heat stress.” The fingerprint is also species-specific, and hence future work in Ensminger’s lab will also explore how species can be distinguished to monitor biodiversity.

When it comes to tree breeding and forest conservation, the ability to distinguish trees that perform well during drought and heat is incredibly useful — complementing genomic selection with adaptive traits could help produce trees resilient to future climate in Canada.

Simply put, Ensminger believes, it could transform Canada’s forest sector.

“Outcomes have been very promising,” Ensminger reports. “We can distinguish trees that are water-stressed from well-watered trees, we can assess how photosynthetic activity varies over the course of the year, and in large forest stands we can identify trees that perform well and distinguish those from unhealthy trees or trees that are stressed.”

Ensminger’s technology is fast, reliable and cost-effective compared to vegetation monitoring that relies on visual inspections and manual measurements. New research enabled through FastPheno now aims to apply the drone-based phenotyping approach at a large scale and explore how reliably it can be used across forests in Ontario and Quebec to monitor the health and fitness of individual trees.

If successful, FastPheno could create cost savings of $540 million per year and reduce assessment times from a matter of weeks to hours – and it can be transferred from forest vegetation to applications in agriculture, conservation and biodiversity studies.

St. Casimir experimental forest in Quebec, a field site where Ensminger and his team do a lot of their drone work (photo courtesy of Éric Dussault, Natural Resources Canada)

What’s next for Ensminger’s team? During their drone flights, they’re collecting an enormous amount of data – and now it’s a matter of processing and analyzing it. They’re collaborating with robotics experts to improve field data collection and will be developing tools to automate the process of image analysis and pixel classification using machine learning and AI technologies.

“We also aim to develop software and web-interfaces that provide users access so that not just researchers, but a wide range of end-users have access to the data produced through this approach,” he says.

“This is an exhilarating time for genomics,” noted Rob Annan, Genome Canada President and CEO, following a federal announcement of funding in March for FastPheno and other projects. “The knowledge, tools and technologies it is generating are driving innovation in traditional sectors and helping them achieve green growth, as well as improving the health and quality of life of Canadians.” 

Ensminger’s project will complement the genomic selection research and operational programs of Natural Resources Canada and the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks of Quebec.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Explained: US Supreme Court's emissions ruling and how it's a blow against climate change fight

Climate activists, including members of Extinction Rebellion, participate in a demonstration in front of the Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse against a recent Supreme Court ruling in New York City. AFP ... Read more »

Kenyan startup transforms plastic trash into useable items

Each month, Noma Green Plastic Limited salvages 40 tons of the plastic discarded in landfills and molds it into chairs, tables and poles used in fencing. Watch video 01:45 Read more »

Po Valley farmers living through Italy's worst drought for 70 years

Ships from World War II resurface in the Po River; water levels are 7ft lower than average; temperatures in June are 3.5 degrees higher; in the first five months of ... Read more »

The EU introduces new crypto rules to protect against fraud and climate impact

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration Europe and its member states have provisionally agreed on new crypto regulations that aim to protect consumers and service providers, the European Parliament announced. Called “MiCA” (markets in ... Read more »

Climate change negatively impacting bumble bees: Study

Temperature changes have negatively impacted most species of bumble bees over the past 120 years, according to new research published this week in Biology Letters. The researchers note that changes ... Read more »

California sets nation's toughest plastics reduction rules

Plastic bottles of shampoo are displayed at Compton’s Market in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, June 17, 2022. California lawmakers approved a measure, on Thursday, June 30, 2022, requiring companies selling plastics ... Read more »

Which rules evolutionary change: Life or climate?

The queen wins over the court jester. Credit: Tadas Razmas The fossil record over the last half a billion years shows biodiversity as a zigzagging pattern of species births and ... Read more »

Walking a tightrope (2): Climate risks

According to the Global Risk Report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2020 and 2021, if the global temperature rises by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030, wildfires, storms, ... Read more »

Whales learn songs from each other in a cultural ’deep dive’

Humpback whales can quickly learn complex song patterns from other whale populations. Image: Supplied. A University of Queensland-led study has found humpback whales can learn incredibly complex songs from whales ... Read more »

US Supreme Court's emmissions ruling 'setback' to fight against climate change

The US Supreme Court has limited how the country’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, striking a blow to the fight ... Read more »

McConnell warns Democrats of fallout for reviving climate spending package

Senator Mitch McConnell Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell threatened Thursday to derail a bill designed to boost semiconductor manufacturing in the United States if Democrats revive their stalled climate and ... Read more »

Sunflowers and dried mangoes are the key to surviving climate change in rural Zimbabwe

One afternoon in Mupindi Village, Gokwe South, more than 400 kilometres from Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, a smallholder farmer called Bernard Mupindi is pruning the rough, hairy triangular leaves that grow ... Read more »

Biden terms US top court's ruling in climate case 'devastating decision'

US President Joe Biden termed the Supreme Court's ruling in West Virginia vs. EPA as 'another devastating decision' and said that he will not relent in using his lawful authorities ... Read more »

US Supreme Court's carbon emissions ruling a 'setback' in climate fight, UN says

The United Nations said Thursday's US Supreme Court ruling that curbs regulators' power to limit greenhouse gas emissions had dealt a blow to the fight against global warming.”This is a ... Read more »

Why Swire Properties and New World’s climate initiatives are a win-win for office tenants and property industry

Hong Kong’s office landlords are increasingly helping tenants meet their climate goals with initiatives that allow them to monitor their energy use and retrofit buildings. The initiatives, which are part ... Read more »

We blew the whistle on Australia’s central climate policy. Here’s what a new federal government probe must fix

Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen is today expected to announce a much anticipated review of Australia’s carbon credit scheme, known as the Emissions Reduction Fund. In March, we exposed serious ... Read more »

Texas climate activists react to SCOTUS limiting EPA in curbing power plant emissions

Climate activists say if nothing is changed to minimize harmful pollutants there will be a warming planet, extreme weather events and more chronic health issues. Read more »

Climate activists poised to shift focus to states, businesses after EPA ruling

Dueling sentiments defined the day for climate activists, investors and lawyers as they reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision Thursday in West Virginia v. EPA, which eliminated some of the ... Read more »

EXPLAINER: Why the Supreme Court's EPA-Climate Change Ruling Matters

The decision also could have a broader effect on other agencies’ regulatory efforts, from education to transportation and food Read more »

Supreme Court cripples the US government's power to fight climate change

The 6-3 ruling severely limits the government's power to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Read more »

How California will fight Supreme Court’s limits on EPA climate enforcement

Many public officials and environmental advocates in California were dismayed by Thursday’s Supreme Court decision to limit federal authority on greenhouse gases from power plants, citing a collective blow to ... Read more »

Climate change targets achievable by keeping global emissions to COVID levels, scientists say

To keep climate change within limits that we can reasonably adapt to, the world needs to cut emissions at nearly the same rate it did during the peak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, scientists say. ... Read more »

Hidden in caves: Mineral overgrowths reveal unprecedented modern sea-level rise

Professional divers assisted researchers by searching for mineral overgrowths in Mallorca, Spain cave systems. Credit: University of South Florida The early 1900s were an exciting time across the world, with rapid advances ... Read more »

New flood maps clarify the risk homeowners face

A probabilistic floodplain map for Proctor Creek in Atlanta, an urban watershed used for modeling by the researchers. Credit: University of Georgia Flooding in urban areas cost Americans more than ... Read more »

With time ticking for climate action, Supreme Court limits ways to curb emissions

In this July 27, 2018 photo, the Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo. J. David Ake/AP hide caption toggle caption J. David ... Read more »

Climate change in ocean water may impact mangrove dispersal

Global map showing the change in (a) sea surface temperature (SST), (b) salinity (SSS), and (c) density (SSD) across mangrove bioregions under RCP 8.5. Changes in SST and SSS are ... Read more »

Climate change will increase chances of wildfire globally, but humans can still reduce the risk

Map of the regions used in our study including Global Fire Emissions Database macroregions (shades of gray) (van der Werf et al., 2006), focus ecoregions (colored and numbered) (Olson et al., 2001), and countries ... Read more »

Quantifying global ocean inhomogeneity and exploring its evolution in climate change

Credit: CC0 Public Domain The ocean is intrinsically inhomogeneous in temperature and salinity. This inhomogeneity fundamentally influences physical and biogeochemical processes of oceans, causing mixing of water masses, and shaping ... Read more »

Supreme Court delivers devastating blow to US climate action

© Getty Images GettyImages-181753791.jpg The US Supreme Court delivered a severe blow on Thursday to the federal government’s ability to tackle the climate crisis. Hours before breaking for summer recess, ... Read more »

Research on regional combustion efficiency in urban Beijing calls for top-down approach

Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain Urban areas account for 2% of the world’s land but are responsible for 40%–70% of global anthropogenic, or human-made CO2 emissions. Quantitative fossil-fuel and greenhouse gas ... Read more »

FEMA releases largest update to its mobile app in a decade

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is releasing the largest update to its mobile application in a decade, the agency announced today. FEMA is releasing the app at the beginning of ... Read more »

Tonga volcano eruption was among the most powerful ever observed, triggering atmospheric gravity waves

GOES imagery courtesy of NOAA and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS). Credit: NOAA and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) The eruption of ... Read more »

Changemakers: Jane Wakely on how sustainability at PepsiCo is becoming a force for growth and good

Food and beverage behemoth PepsiCo is setting some ambitious sustainability goals with an aim to have 100 per cent recyclable, reusable, compostable and biodegradable packaging by 2025, and achieve net-zero ... Read more »

'Historic moment': EU and New Zealand strike trade deal with climate and gender equality provisions

The European Union and New Zealand on Thursday concluded negotiations for a free trade agreement expected to boost bilateral trade by nearly a third. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ... Read more »

Even temporarily overshooting 2°C would cause permanent damage to Earth's species

Credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock The history of climate change is one of people slowly coming to terms with the truth. None but a small minority still question whether it’s real and ... Read more »

Gang illegally trafficking greenhouse gases across Spain is busted by the police

Spanish authorities say they have broken up an organised crime group involved in millions of carbon tax fraud. The police say the gang operated by avoiding paying import and carbon ... Read more »

Australia can ensure the biggest mine in PNG's history won't leave a toxic legacy

Credit: Shutterstock The COVID pandemic slowed mining operations across the Pacific. But as economic activity returns, an Australia-based company is poised to pursue what would be the largest mine in ... Read more »

Supreme Court Says EPA Does Not Have Authority to Set Climate Standards for Power Plants

The Supreme Court ruled the EPA does not have authority to set standards on climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions for existing power plants. The 6-3 ruling said that Congress, not the ... Read more »

The Government may want to hush up their net zero failings – but I won’t keep quiet

Boris Johnson claims to be taking action, but he’s simply not delivering – worse still, he’s actively pursuing policies that will lock us into higher emissions (Picture: Getty Images) The Climate Change ... Read more »

Supreme Court restricts EPA’s authority to regulate power plant emissions

​The Supreme Court restricted the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority ​to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants Thursday, potentially dealing a crucial blow to the Biden administration’s plans to fight climate ... Read more »