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Applications of airborne remote sensing to the conservation management of a West African National Park

Reducing emissions from tropical forest deforestation and degradation (REDD+) is regarded by some leading economists as a cost-effective means of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change. In terms of conservation, REDD+ is often regarded as a win-win-win opportunity: climate change will be mitigated, biodiverse forests protected and local communities rewarded. Yet, the large-scale implementation of REDD+ faces many technical and socio-economic challenges. The key technical issues involve monitoring carbon cheaply and transparently, and demonstrating that REDD+ activities are having co-benefits for biodiversity. Because of this, attention is turning to remote sensing technologies to monitor hard-to-measure processes over spatial scales relevant for conservation management. Among these, Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) promises to be among the best suited for characterizing forest structure and dynamics, as well as capturing the legacy of disturbance events.

This project was funded by the CCI Collaborative Fund for Conservation.

Project Aims

The Gola Rainforest National Park in Sierra Leone is one of the largest tracks of intact tropical moist forest in West Africa. In this project, we will combine an airborne LiDAR survey with data collected from an extensive network of permanent plots established in the Gola Rainforest National Park with the objective of:

  1. Measuring above-ground carbon storage and sequestration rates
  2. Locating areas of disturbed forest
  3. Understanding the habitat preferences of forest- dependent wildlife

Obtaining accurate estimates of above-ground carbon storage is essential if REDD+ is to succeed. By measuring key properties of trees and their crowns, LiDAR can be used  to scale up above-ground carbon estimates from individual plots to entire landscapes.

Furthermore, because LiDAR quantifies light transmission through the canopy, a property which closely relates to photosynthesis rate, it can also be used to estimate the productivity of the forest. By combining this information with data from the permanent plots, it will therefore be possible to investigate what factors affect the strength of the carbon-sink and determine how disturbance regimes affect the functioning of the forest.

Finally, in order to quantify the co-benefits of implementing REDD+ strategies for carbon sequestration and biodiversity, we will fuse the RSPB’s extensive database on bird, primate and other mammal observations with our canopy and ground layer data in order to identify the types of habitat these animals frequent and map them over broader scales.

CCI partners Involved

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...
The Department of Plant Sciences' research spans plant and microbial sciences. Conservation-related work in the department includes forest ecology and conservation, tropical ecology, mathematical...
The Department of Geography's research clusters focus on society and environment, development and political ecology, culture and demography, environmental processes, landscape modelling and climate...