Jaume Ruscalleda Alvarez
Thesis: Near-surface remote sensing of plant condition in mine site restoration environments
Non-invasive methods to assess plant physiological condition have been developed at different scales, from leaf to ecosystem, to inform different processes. Among them, near-surface remote sensing techniques provide the adequate spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions to accurately validate the relationships between proxy indicators of plant health derived from sensed data and real changes in plant physiology measured through traditional plant physiological techniques. This approach has been successfully developed, implemented and automated for agricultural purposes, but its potential is yet to be fully investigated in the field of biodiverse and spatially heterogeneous plant communities. The context of a restored Banksia woodland in a mine site in SW Australia provides an adequate diversity of plant functional types to test the robustness of this methodology, as well as a seasonal drought stress pattern to study plant performance in favourable and un-favourable environmental conditions. This research project aims to determine if near-surface remote sensing measurements can reliably quantify plant drought stress condition in a biodiverse and heterogeneous plant community. This project also aims propose quantitative criteria to evaluate restoration success, by defining a fast, accurate and easy to perform methodology, potentially establishing the foundations for scaling up to more remote imaging platforms that allow monitoring of larger areas in shorter periods of time.
Why my research is important
This research will explore the fundamental basis for developing new, and faster approaches to assess plant heath which have the potential to help researchers, regulatory agencies and mining companies in determining the status of plant community restoration, specifically plant drought stress status, through reliable quantitative criteria. These innovative methods could be used in restoration trajectory monitoring and in diagnosing of issues at an early stage to inform restoration management, which is currently done through partial, arbitrary and/or subjective criteria. Remotely sensed methods have the potential to be quicker to perform and, if sufficiently accurate, could be upscaled for the monitoring of large areas over a short period of time through air-borne and/or space-borne sensors that will benefit from the leaf and plant scale processes explored by this research, further contributing to the development of new approaches to monitor plant status in large vegetated areas, both restored and natural. This research will contribute to establishing physiological thresholds (both seasonal and diurnal) of different functional types of Banksia woodland plant seedlings, which has not been fully described in a natural environment nor in a restored mine site. Finally, this research will contribute to the better understanding of water relations of seedlings in the Banksia woodlands, which will help support this unique ecosystem’s conservation and restoration in a context habitat decline, climate change and a drying landscape.