skip to content

Cambridge NERC Doctoral Training Partnerships

Graduate Research Opportunities

Lead supervisor: David Coomes, Plant Sciences

Co-supervisor: Emily Lines, Geography

Brief summary: 
We will improve knowledge of rainforest responses to climate change by applying transformative approaches that allows imagery from cheap drones to be used to track the response of individual tree species to periods of drought
Importance of the area of research concerned: 
Forests are key components of the global carbon cycle, but are under threat from land-use and climate change. The extent to which diverse forests will be more resilient to climate change remains poorly understood. An exciting new approach is to track the responses of many thousands of individual trees by surveying them regularly with a drone. These advancements are providing fresh insights into forest dynamics in a rapidly changing world and contributing to our understanding of the contribution that biodiversity makes to climate change mitigation
Project summary : 
At the heart of this project is airborne surveying of forests over many months to track the phenology of individual tree crowns. The survey data will be analysed using data processing pipelines we have developed to identify trees and recognise their species. The project could be based in Europe and/or the tropics, depending on your interests, and you would be part of a wider programme focussed on nature-based climate solutions (e.g. the Cambridge's NERC Centre for Landscape Regeneration at Cambridge).
What will the student do?: 
The student will spend considerable time in the field, regularly survey field sites with a multispectral drone and collecting ground data to train/test the analysis pipeline. These data will be co-registered and segmented so that individual trees can be tracked through time, using the detectree2 algorithm developed by our group. These unique time series will allow the student to measure the responses of individual tree crowns to changing environmental conditions, and test questions related to forest resilience.
References - references should provide further reading about the project: 
Dalponte & Coomes (2016) Tree-centric mapping of forest carbon density from airborne laser scanning and hyperspectral data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution
Ball, J et al (2023). Accurate delineation of individual tree crowns in tropical forests from aerial RGB imagery using Mask R-CNN. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.
You can find out about applying for this project on the Department of Plant Sciences page.