Monitoring vegetation and fauna through GIS and remote sensing

Lorna is an ecologist and spatial scientist who focuses on minimising human impact on the environment and its species at different scales, mostly through GIS and remote sensing tools (e.g. data obtained from camera-trapping, telemetry, maps, drones, and/or satellites among others).

Research

Starting as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in 2017, Lorna’s current research focus is on the restoration of the high-profile Ranger Uranium Mine. This work is being conducted in collaboration with the Australian government’s Supervising Scientist (ERISS). As part of this project, Lorna’s research aims to understand different aspects of Ranger’s reference ecosystem (undisturbed areas of the mine lease and the surrounding world-heritage Kakadu National Park, NT) and signs of restoration failure and success in region to set closure criteria, provide benchmark information, and guide works to restore the mine and monitor its progression.

Other research projects conducted by Lorna have had a strong fauna component, especially focusing on mammalian carnivores and avifauna. This research has explored habitat suitability, species distributions, land classifications, habitat quality, resource availability, habitat use, population dynamics, movement rates, activity patters, community compositions, and species interactions of native and introduced species in varied ecosystem types (including urban areas) across the world. Lorna’s research is conducted using a combination of fieldwork, GIS and remote sensing, literature reviews, data analysis, and laboratory work, as required.

Biography

During her PhD in ecology (UQ; 2017), Lorna looked into the ecology of the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus) to assess potential aspects driving the range contraction of this endangered species. These aspects included top-down (predators) and bottom-up (habitat quality) pressures, population dynamics of northern quolls –through live-trapping–, and interactions with other dasyurid species. This research was funded by the ARC, scholarships awarded (CONACYT and UQ), grants (Holsworth, NESP), and in kind funding (DBCA). Before graduating, Lorna held a research assistant position with the Quantitative Applied Spatial Ecology Group at QUT, where she worked with drone derived data over the course of three months.  Lorna has continued to strengthen and expand her research with northern quolls, working on manuscripts for publication and forming new collaborations to expand current knowledge of the species. This has continued along with her work as Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CMLR, which commenced when she graduated from her PhD.

Lorna obtained a B.Sc. in Biology (UDLAP in Puebla, Mexico; 2004), where she conducted and honours equivalent looking at the spatial and temporal distribution of avifauna in urban areas. Since then, she continued research in Mexico through collaborations with Dr. Eric Ramirez-Bravo. As part of those, Lorna has been leading a project exploring the avifauna and habitat features of suburban areas in the northwest of Mexico City.

While conducting her M.Sc. in Range and Wildlife Management (SRSU in Texas, USA; 2008), Lorna explored the home range and movement rates of jaguars (Panthera onca) in agricultural and protected areas of northern Paraguay and monitored mesocarnivores in Big Bend National Park (Texas). During this time, she also worked on projects monitoring avifauna as indicators of restoration success, monitoring home ranges of grey foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), tutored “GIS and Remote Sensing”, and started a role as research assistant that continued after graduation. The latter was to develop habitat suitability models for mountain lions (Puma concolor) and black bears (Ursus americanus). Lorna has continued to use all the skills learned during this time, and has kept in touch with her mentors and supervisors.

Awards

  • School of Biological Sciences Travel Award Prize. University of Queensland, Australia (awarded 2015)
  • Outstanding Graduate Student for the Department of Natural Resource Management, Wildlife division. Sul Ross State University, USA (awarded 2008).
  • Who’s who among students in American Universities and Colleges. USA (awarded 2007).

Current Memberships

  • Society for Ecological Restoration (2020) 
  • The Australian Mammal Society (2015-present)
  • Society for Conservation Biology (2010-present)

Engagement and Collaboration 

Government agencies and programs
  • Environmental Research Institute of the Supervising Scientist, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, Darwin, Northern Territory - Ranger Uranium Mine rehabilitation and closure
  • Science and Conservation Division, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Kensington, Western Australia - northern quoll research
  • National Environmental Science Program (NESP), Threatened Species Recovery Hub – expert elicitation to estimate the benefits of offsetting, for northern quolls
  • School of BioSciences, University of Melbourne, Victoria – mitigation of road impacts and GIS telemetry of red foxes
Universities
  • School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia – northern quoll research
  • School of Science, Edith Cowan University, 100 Joondalup Drive, Joondalup, WA 6027, Australia. – northern quoll research
  • School of Environmental Science, Institute for Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Albury, New South Wales, Australia – northern quoll research
  • Departamento de Investigación en Biodiversidad, Alimentación y Cambio Climático, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Puebla, Mexico – diverse species of carnivores and subjects of botany
Industry
  • Environmental Resource Management East Africa Limited. On Behalf of BNT Construction & Engineering Kenya Limited (BECHTEL) - mitigation of road impacts

Research opportunities (short projects). If interested, send me an email with your CV.

1. Is there a pattern on distribution of canopy and non-grassy understory species in savanna woodlands?

The spatial distribution of vegetation species in savannas is highly variable, resulting in a heterogeneous ecosystem where patterns are hard to predict. This is particularly true for the canopy, which is usually composed of an open overstorey with a patchy distribution of trees. In contrast, the understorey is often dominated by a few grass species that can lead to predictable vegetation cover, but nevertheless can obscure the presence and distribution of highly diverse biodiversity. Increases in canopy cover in savanna woodlands is thought to lead to a decrease in the diversity of the understorey community. If we get rid of “noise” from dominant grass species, can the distribution of trees help explain or predict the presence and distribution of understorey species? Is there a difference between species with open canopies vs. closed canopies?  

Through this project, you can help further our understanding of species distribution in savannas, using existing data sets. Specifically, you will have access to point-intercept data taken within plots distributed in eucalypt-dominated savannas of the iconic Kakadu National Park.

2. Flower detection with drone-based imagery

Detecting features in the ecosystem through remote sensing imagery depends upon image quality and resolution. Certainly, as technology has improved, so has our ability to reliably detect different features of the environment. Considering that spatial resolution of imagery is dictated by sensor capabilities and by its distance to the feature, technological advances allowing the incorporation of specialized sensors to drones has made possible the detection of features that are much smaller than those obtained from traditional remote systems. For instance, drone-based imagery has been successfully used to individually identify a variety of overstorey species. However, detecting understorey species is more complicated, given that they are much smaller and are often hidden by the overstorey’s canopy. Despite limitations, it is possible to detect understorey species (in open environments), with documented stories of success that are mostly proof of concept at this stage (Hernandez-Santin et al., 2019). So, the question rises, what is the minimum resolution needed to detect and identify understorey species in savannas?

Through this project, you can help to determine what is the minimum resolution needed to detect selected understorey species with distinguishing characteristics (i.e. flowers), using existing data sets. Specifically, you will have access to done-based imagery collected for different flower species at different heights. The ecosystem is a eucalypt-dominated savanna in the iconic Kakadu National Park.

3. Seasonal feeding habits of northern quoll

The northern quoll is an endangered carnivorous marsupial of conservation significance, due, in part, to the top predator position it holds within its guild. This led to the creation of a national recovery plan for the species in 2010, which highlighted the need to gather baseline information of their biology and ecology. Since then, there has been a boost in research targeting northern quolls. We now have some general understanding of their diet; however, many questions remain. For example: Are there seasonal differences in northern quoll diet? Are there differences in feeding habits between males and females? Can feeding habits contribute to explain body condition or survival?

Through this project, you can help further our understanding of northern quoll’s diet using previously collected data. Specifically, you will have access to individually identified feeding habits and their specific physical and demographic information. This purely desktop project will provide important information for many sectors looking to preserve this species.

Funding

Tenders. As team member (2): Department of the Environment and Energy, Australia (consultancy and tender). As Chief Investigator (CI). Environmental Resource Management East Africa Limited (awarded 2018). On Behalf of BNT Construction & Engineering Kenya Limited (BECHTEL) (awarded 2018).

Grants. Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, ANZ Trustees, Australia (awarded 2014). National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) Threatened Species Recovery Hub PhD Support Funds (awarded 2016).

In kind funding. Department of Parks and Wildlife, Western Australia (awarded 2013).

Scholarships (3). University of Queensland International Scholarship (UQI), Australia (awarded 2012). Offer of Scholarship Support for Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) (awarded 2012). Beca CONACYT al Extranjero [Scholarship from CONACYT -Mexican National Council for Science and Technology- to the exterior], Mexico (awarded 2012).”

ORCID: 0000-0001-8996-3310

Scopus ID:  37016289200

Google Scholar ID: PjjQks8AAAAJ