Virtual landscapes to study threatened Australian ecosystems


Researchers developed immersive virtual landscapes of endangered intact Australian ecosystems to accurately illustrate changes over time, seasons and subsequent disturbances like bushfires.

The study created a virtual reality model of an Australian landscape in Box Gum Grassy Woodland, an endangered eucalyptus forest ecosystem that is difficult to observe in its unspoiled form of pre-European settlement. The models could potentially be used as a resource for ecological study and conservation.

The research, published in Landscape Ecology, was led by immersive visualization researchers from the School of Information Technology (IT) at Monash University and a team of environmentalists from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO.

Monash University’s SensiLab lead researcher Dr Tom Chandler said the aim of the study was to explore how a forest ecosystem could be viewed and experienced as a virtual environment.

“One of the main advantages of a virtual model is its ability to simulate changes over time. This has implications for visualizing landscape changes in the near future, but also far into the past, ”said Dr Chandler.

“Our model focuses on changes in vegetation over the seasons, and we extended it to visualize changes in the landscape following bushfires over time, in some cases decades later.”

CSIRO Senior Scientist Dr Anna Richards said land use, climate change and related pressures have already had an impact on the delicate balance of biomes across the world.

“There are very few places left in Australia where you can study healthy and intact ecosystems. These immersive landscapes have the potential to become important resources for the study and conservation of endangered ecologies, ”said Dr Richards.

“Considering that we can also see the landscape after it has been affected by bushfires, this could be an essential tool for land managers and policy makers to explore and prepare for a changing future. “

The study was a collaboration between researchers from the School of Computer Science at Monash University, CSIRO, Pennsylvania State University, and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Agriculture. environment.

The research was funded by CSIRO and the Collaborative Development Program at Monash-Pennsylvania State University.

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