Synchrotron images of nickel hyperaccumulator Alyssum murale seeds; copper metallophyte community in north-western Queensland; rehabilitated landform at an open-cut coal mine; nickel hyperaccumulator growth trial in Sabah, Malaysia

This group assesses impacts of mining activities on flora and fauna; develop innovative approaches to restore ecosystem services and practices that encourage recolonisation by native species; examine the resilience of ecosystems under specific disturbance regimes; discover and understand the utility of metallophyte plants; create approaches for the recovery and sustainability of disturbed land.


Projects within this Group

Detection of weed species using high-resolution drone imagery and object based image analysis

Invasive weeds are considered to be one of the major threats to the long-term success of post-mine rehabilitation. Therefore, many mine sites closely monitor the presence, abundance, distribution, and spread of weed species in their rehabilitated areas. Monitoring for weeds is traditionally carried out through ground-based field work and visual assessments. However, these methods can be slow, costly, and labour intensive. In contrast, remote sensing can help overcome these issues by monitoring large areas of land for detecting and controlling weeds. Until recently, remote sensing techniques had limitations that impeded the monitoring of weed species.

Classification of weed (Parkinsonia aculeata) shown in pink and Acacia salicina in yellow. Circled individuals were identified during field assessments, solid colours show plants identified from object-based classification (software: eCognition)

These limitations have been importantly overcome by the advancement of remote sensing technology, through the miniaturisation of multi and hyperspectral sensors that can be mounted on drones.

Drone-imagery allows spatial resolutions that are fine enough to differentiate vegetation, often to the level of individual trees or shrubs. Using computational algorithms that detect spectral and structural differences across images, we can distinguish different species of vegetation. This allows the identification of weeds, information that can be used to develop management actions to remove these threats to rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation of mines in the Alligator Rivers Region

Wildlife Dispersal Modelling for Road Mitigation Purposes (Kenya)

Identification of wildlife crossing locations to mitigate the effects of a proposed expresswayGiraffe - Kenya

The Kenya project work assesses the environmental impacts of anthropogenic activities and disturbance on ecosystems, particularly in the context of new infrastructure rather than mining. We are modelling the movements of a suit of mammal species to understand the effects that a proposed Expressway will have on wildlife across a large area of Kenya.

This modelling will be used to the propose mitigation strategies and assess the most appropriate locations for the placement of wildlife crossings. 

Elucidating the cellular distribution and pathways of nickel accumulation in tropical hyperaccumulator plant species

Hyperaccumulators are unusual plants that accumulate particular metals or metalloids in their living tissues to levels that may be orders of magnitude greater than is normal for most plants growing on similar soils. Discovering hyperaccumulators and understanding their agronomy could lead to identifying potential species to be utilized in novel phytotechnologies such as phytomining for phytoextraction of valuable metals.

Currently, there are approximately 450 documented Ni hyperaccumulators worldwide. The majority of the nickel hyperaccumulators have been recorded in Cuba (130), Southern Europe and Minor Asia (80–90), and Malaysia (24). In New Caledonia there are 65 documented Ni hyperaccumulators. One of the most unusual is the tree Pycnandra acuminata, endemic to New Caledonia, which has a latex that contains up to 25.7 Wt% nickel colouring it blue-green from nickel ions.

Elucidating the cellular distribution and pathways of nickel accumulation in tropical hyperaccumulator plant species

The current research has been undertaken as part of Vidiro Gei’s PhD project. Her study aimed to spatially resolve the elemental distribution in five different New Caledonian nickel hyperaccumulator plant species using synchrotron-based micro-X-ray Fluorescence imaging. The experiments were undertaken at X-ray fluorescence beamline (P06) of PETRA III (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron; DESY) in Hamburg, Germany with collaborators from New Caledonia and France.

Read more in the BBC news story "The tree that bleeds... metal?"

Project members: Dr Antony van der Ent, Associate Professor Peter Erskine 

Testing the Resilience of Mine Site Rehabilitation

How do engineered landscapes respond to fire? This project aims to test established rehabilitation by applying fire and measuring the vegetation and landform response in the 2 years following the burn.  The project is using high spatial and temporal spectral imagery captured by drone along with ground surveys to assess fire severity and recovery, and determine the long-term impacts on lease relinquishment for a number of sites in Queensland and New South Wales. Fires have been conducted at Curragh Mine, Glencore Newlands Mine (night burn photos) and Ensham Mine.

Testing the Resilience of Mine Site Rehabilitation

Fire 1

Application of X-ray fluorescence technology on herbarium collections

Growth trials using nickel hyperaccumulator plants in Sabah, Malaysia