Promising results for a new method of assessing biodiversity

Digitalisation is advancing rapidly, and assessments of biological diversity and conservation values ​​can soon be made with the support of digital technology. A new method developed by researchers within Mistra Digital Forest for this purpose has been evaluated at Södra. “It was really exciting to see the high precision of the model,” says Örjan Grönlund, ecologist at Södra.

Eva Lindberg

Eva Lindberg. Photo: Johan Olsson.

Imagine if the basis for assessing biodiversity and conservation values ​​could soon be produced digitally, supplementing time-consuming inventories in the field. During the year, researchers at SLU and Skogforsk, in a project within Mistra Digital Forest, have been exploring that possibility. Using laser data from one of the programme’s test sites, they have succeeded in identifying areas with high conservation values.

With help of high-resolution laser data, the researchers have produced maps where areas with high conservation values ​​glow red. The information can be used to make decisions about retention and set-asides. Image: Swedish University of Agriculture (SLU).

– The laser data is of such high resolution that we can use it to find indicators of high conservation values ​​in the form of standing and lying dead trees, as well as living trees, that are valuable for biological diversity. This information enables analysis of conservation values ​​at landscape level and facilitates forest management planning, meaning detailed planning of harvesting. For example, we can use it to make decisions about retention and set-asides, says Eva Lindberg, researcher at SLU.

Evaluated by Södra: “It looks extremely promising”

With the help of the laser data, among other things, the researchers have produced maps where areas with high conservation values ​​glow red.

Örjan Grönlund

Örjan Grönlund

Örjan Grönlund, ecologist at Södra, has evaluated the method:

– The tests so far have been small-scale, but it looks extremely promising.

The evaluation we have done shows that the method finds the indicators, and pin-points areas with high conservation values with high precision. It was really exciting to see. I can see this type of map facilitating and improving nature conservation work at all levels in the future.

The image illustrates how you can use the data to detect indicators of high conservation values. One such indicator is downed trees that are visible as lines in the image.

Next year, the researchers plan a field visit to the test site, together with Södra. Whether there will be a continuation of the project still remains to be seen. In that case, the next step is to examine the usefulness of the maps in forestry, and to add information from remote sensing data, for example on tree species, which is also relevant for biodiversity.

What obstacles must be overcome before the method can be used by the industry?

– This type of high-resolution laser data needs to be more accessible, says Eva Lindberg. At the moment it involves a large investment, but technological development is moving fast and what is expensive today is probably considerably cheaper tomorrow. By then we will have methods in place enabling more accurate work in the protection of conservation values, ​​and with their help forest owners will be able to show how they work with sustainability, and meet the requirements of environmental certifications.

Read about the Work Package Forest Facts.