Automated Forest Restoration (AFR) Workshop

Brainstorming a research agenda to automate
tasks of restoring tropical forest ecosystems.

28-31/10/15, Grand View Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand



Restoring tropical forests is of huge economic and ecological importance; to mitigate climate change, avert biodiversity losses, stabilize watersheds and supply forest products and services. In 2014, the UN called for forest restoration over 350 million ha by 2030, but how could it be done on such a vast scale? Most accessible land is already cultivated, leaving only remote sites for forest restoration. People are reluctant to carry trees and materials long distances across rugged terrain. The labour needed for tree planting, weeding, fertilizer application and monitoring often exceeds the local supply. Workers are unwilling to do such laborious and low paid work.

Tropical forest restoration techniques have advanced considerably over the past 20 years. In many areas, we now know which tree species to plant, when to collect seeds, how to grow planting stock and how to plant and maintain trees, until canopy closure and biodiversity recovery occur. But implementation still relies largely on Stone-Age technologies – hauling tree saplings and materials on foot, over long distances, across rough terrain.

"If we are to achieve the UN goal, forest restoration practices must be dragged
out of the Stone Age and into the Drone Age."

Therefore, in this brainstorming workshop, we invited restoration ecologists and technologists to 
explore the potential for "auto-restoration". We developed a research agenda, for the next 5 years which we hope will turn AFR from a pipedream into reality, by improving drone and visual recognition technologies and combining them with proven forest restoration practices.
VDO IntroductionSome of the questions addressed at the workshop were: could a new generation of autonomous "dendrones" spot seed trees and transmit their GPS co-ordinates to seed collectors? Or could they collect seeds themselves with robotic arms? How about aerial seeding by drones or even auto-weeding? Could drones be programmed to spray a non-residual, systemic herbicide on weeds, without harming young trees?

<<<<<< VDO Concept - click on the image

1)   to assess the current states of technologies that could be used to automate forest restoration tasks and identify               limitations or gaps in those technologies;
2)   to design research programs to improve technologies or combine them in innovative ways, leading to prototypes             for testing;
3)   to evaluate the feasibility of automated forest restoration from technical, ecological and socio-economic                         perspectives and
4)   to facilitate collaboration among technologists and restoration ecologists and the formation of interdisciplinary                 research teams.
1)    A research agenda, for the advancement of automated forest restoration, 2015-2020, based on the expertise of a            quorum of technologists and restoration ecologists.
2)    Material for the first edition of a multi-authored textbook on “Automated Forest Restoration”

The workshop comprisd introductory presentations, by leading technologists and ecologists on the current state of technologies that could be used to automate various forest restoration tasks. Subsequently participants contributed to breakout discussion sessions to decide on research topics of most importance in advancing AFR. A field day to view restoration plots and demonstrate drone technology was included. Participants voted to prioritize research proposals on the final day. 
Topics will included:
1)    auto-seed collection- combining UAV1technologies with plant-recognition 
software to locate seed trees;
2)    aerial seeding – precise delivery, of seeds within degradable containers, with gels and coatings to maximize                      seedling establishment;
3)    auto-weed control – combining UAV and plant-recognition technologies to spray weeds with non-residual,                          herbicide, without harming trees, and/or developing herbicides, which kill weeds but not trees, and/or  selecting            herbicide-resistant trees;
4)    auto fertilizer application– using UAV’s to deliver precise fertilizer doses to trees and

5)    auto-monitoring– using UAV’s, with plant-recognition software, to assess tree survival/ growth, canopy closure,                plant diversity recovery and using remote cameras and/or microphones to monitor recolonization of restored plots          by bird/mammal species
Drone Building Master Class

An optional extra Master Class on drone building was run after the main workshop closed.
Our tutor was Mr Lot Amoros, artist, engineer and master drone builder. You can view his previous work here:,

Lot Amorós made his debut in the art world by programming reactive visual algorithms for live performances. He investigates the intervention of technology in the physical world, focussing on use of public air space and practical applications of unmanned aerial vehicles. He has developed data visualization interfaces, mixed reality performances and interactive audiovisual instruments. As an activist for open-source software and public data, he creates public-access wireless networks and disruptive devices. His creations have been exhibited in Brazil, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Egypt, and Spain.
Outputs of the workshop can be viewed here and if you have any questions about the workshop, please email the workshop secretariat: 


Primary Facilitators

The workshop’s primary facilitators were specialists in particular technologies, which may be applied to automating some of the tasks of restoring tropical forest ecosystems. They presented PowerPoints to update all participants on the latest technological advances and identify gaps or deficiencies for the break-out discussion groups to consider in more detail. They also drafted review papers, to prepare participants for the workshop.

Dr Steve Elliott – Forest Restoration Ecology

Stephen Elliott gained a PhD in forest ecology from Edinburgh University in 1985 and became a lecturer in wildlife conservation and tropical plant ecology at The Biology Department, Chiang Mai University, Thailand, in 1986. In 1994, he co-founded the Forest Restoration Research Unit and has concentrated on research and outreach to develop appropriate methodologies for restoring tropical forest ecosystems, ever since. 

Dr Lian Pin Koh - UAV’s in Ecology and Conservation
Lian Pin received his doctorate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University in 2008. In 2014, he was appointed as Associate Professor and Chair of Applied Ecology & Conservation at the University of Adelaide, where he works on emerging environmental and socioeconomic challenges facing tropical developing nations, including the threats of intensifying land-use conflicts to natural ecosystems and wildlife. He is also Regional Technical Advisor for Conservation International, a TED speaker and Founding Director of the non-profit,

Computer Aided Plant Recognition

Dr. Dawn Frame - Canopy Science and Auto-Plant-Recognition

Dawn Frame gained her Ph.D. in Biology at City University of New York in 1990. She is a classical botanist and morphologist and has conducted research on tropical ecology for over 30 years. She developed her view of tropical forest ecosystems during 5 "canopy-raft" expeditions. She specializes in tree pollination and, along with colleagues at AMAP (botany, bioinformatics & plant architecture), Montpellier, France, developed plant recognition software (PlantNet-Mobile & Pl@ntNet-Identify) for general use and for fine-scale remote sensing studies. She sees remote sensing with UAVs as important tools for tropical forest ecologists and canopy scientists.

Dr. Carol Garzon-Lopez - Remote Sensing for Tree Species Recognition

Dr Carol Garzon-lopez, from Columbia, is a postdoctoral researcher at Fondazione Edmund Mach, Italy, where she provides expertise on the use of remote sensing tools and integrative approaches for species distribution modeling as part of the European Union Biodiversity Observation Network project.  Her scientific interests include tropical ecology and the use of spatial tools for tropical forest conservation. For her PhD at Groningen University, she used aerial images to map tree species distributions in Panama with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and conducted field research to determine the factors that affected tree species distributions.

Aerial Seeding

Simone Pedrini – Seed Enablement Technologies

Simone Pedrini graduated in Natural Science in Pavia University (Italy) in 2011 and has been working with native seed banks, park authorities and agricultural companies on various restoration projects. In 2012 he founded the first Italian private company on native seeds and plants production for restoration (, where he acted as CEO until January 2015. He is now a member of the research team at Kings Park and Curtin University in Perth (Western Australia) doing cutting-edge research on seed enablement technologies to improve the efficiency of large-scale restoration: a collaborative project with the European Network on Native Seed Science, Technology and Conservation (NASTEEC).

Martin Tengler - Drones for Aerial Seeding

Martin is a co-founder at BioCarbon Engineering and an M.A. in Economics candidate at the University of Tokyo. He holds an M.Sc. in Global Governance and Diplomacy from Oxford University, specializing in environmental policy. He has previously worked in the logistics department of Anheuser-Busch InBev, where he was involved in the implementation of several emissions-cutting projects that reduced the company's transport-related emissions on select routes in Belgium by nearly 50%. He has also worked on a GHG-reduction project at the World Resources Institute in Mumbai, India. He is a Czech citizen, but has lived on three continents and speaks six languages.

Professor Bruce Auld – Auto-Weed Control

Professor Bruce Auld is a plant ecologist with a principal interest in invading plants. He main interests are weed ecology and management, including the biological control of weeds and weed control economics. He has worked mostly in Australia with projects in South East Asia and the Pacific and has been a visiting professor in Japan and China. 

Auto-Monitoring - Vegetation and Carbon

Tom Swinfield - drones for forest quality assessment

Tom is a theoretical ecologist, specializing in forest restoration. Research interests include coexistence theory, the cost-benefit functions of restoration interventions (on biodiversity, carbon and forest products), optimised forest quality assessment and developing spatial analytical approaches for modelling meso-scale species distributions. His work at Harapan Rainforest focusses on refining monitoring techniques to assess forest quality and designing experiments to test the efficacy of restoration management.

Ryan Chisholm - use of drone-mounted LIDAR

Ryan is a theoretical ecologist at the National University of Singapore with an interest in tropical forest ecology, biodiversity, ecosystem function, ecosystem services and alien invasive species. Current research includes how large-scale patterns of tree diversity in tropical forests influence ecosystem function and development of drone-mounted LiDAR to measure forest structure, in collaboration with NUS engineers. He is also a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Auto-Monitoring Wildlife Recovery

Dr. George Gale - Recovery of Birds and Mammals in Restored Forests

Since 1998, George Gale has lectured in GIS, conservation biology and wildlife survey techniques at the School of Bioresources and Technology, King Mongkut's Univeristy of Technology, Thailand, specializing in ornithology. His  research interests have included the role of birds as seed dispersers during forest restoration and camera trapping.

Prof. Sara Bumrungsri - Recovery of Bats in Restored Forests

Bats are a vital to the ecological recovery of restored forests, so we welcome Prof. Sara Bumrungsri to help participants consider auto-bat detection as part of auto-monitoring restoration. He graduated in forestry and specialized in bat ecology for this MSc and PhD, receiving a Spellazani award for his contribution to bat research.He is an assistant Professor at the Department of Biology, Prince of Songkla University, Thailand, where he works on identification of insectivorous bats, using echolocation, and on the foraging behavior of fruit- and nectar-feeding bats. He is also principal researcher on a limestone mine restoration project.

The program in brief:


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