UniSA IT project helps bushfire recovery research on Kangaroo Island

STEM WINNERS: Program director and associate professor Stewart Von Itzstein, Nathan Jonas, Anthony Cava and course coordinator David Harris at the Project Fair Day. Photo: Paul Maguire
STEM WINNERS: Program director and associate professor Stewart Von Itzstein, Nathan Jonas, Anthony Cava and course coordinator David Harris at the Project Fair Day. Photo: Paul Maguire

A university capstone project completed at the University of South Australia is helping Kangaroo Island researchers with their bushfire recovery research.

Information Technology students Ben Simpson, Anthony Cava and Nathan Jonas, along with supervisor Dr Georg Grossmann, accepted the difficult challenge of devising a method to calculate vegetation cover on the ground and in the canopy from photos.

CANOPY PHOTO: Jo Sullivan takes a photo of the canopy at one of the monitoring locations. Photo: S. Petit

CANOPY PHOTO: Jo Sullivan takes a photo of the canopy at one of the monitoring locations. Photo: S. Petit

External principal supervisors Peter Hammond from KI Conservation Landowners Association and associate professor Topa Petit from UniSA represent an alliance of stakeholders in the project.

"The students understood the brief well, were motivated, and delivered excellent work," Mr Hammond said.

"We are now in a position to calculate very quickly the ground and canopy covers from photos that we take in the field.

"Cover is an indicator of vegetation recovery at 750 pygmy-possum and bat nest box locations that we monitor. We have thousands of photos and it would not be possible to calculate cover manually."

The students evaluated existing apps and used a combination of existing software and new scripts to facilitate photo processing. Hundreds of photos can be processed in a few seconds.

Dr Grossmann was proud of the students' achievements.

"They were selected from the cohort and had the privilege to present their work to a large audience at the Project Fair Day at UniSA," he said. "They won the prize for best poster."

Mr Simpson, who managed the project, said the students learned about ecology and Kangaroo Island in the process.

"It was something different to what we normally get to work on, and quite an eye opener," he said.

Mr Cava also enjoyed the interdisciplinary challenge.

"It was exciting to learn to communicate and work closely with environmental scientists, and to produce something that is going to help ecological research in bushfire recovery on Kangaroo Island," he said.

"We are now keen to publish the method, and to make it available for free."

Dr Petit said the work had applications not only for bushfire recovery, but also for many ecological projects and agriculture.

"It has been a complex endeavour, but well worth it. We are really pleased to have this tool to allow us to link wildlife recovery to an indicator of vegetation recovery."

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