Using drone & satellite to track pest damage

FABI and ICFR researchers are collaborating in an innovative project to develop a system to monitor the impact of the Eucalyptus snout beetle on the health of eucalypts using a combination of drones and satellite remote sensing.

Gonipterus sp. n. 2, is an invasive insect native to Australia and a significant defoliator of Eucalyptus. Management of this pest, commonly known as the Eucalyptus snout beetle, relies mainly on classical biological control by a tiny wasp Anaphes nitens, which was first introduced into South Africa in 1924. The biological control has been effective in keeping Gonipterus infestations under control for decades, but in the past few years Gonipterus infestations have increased and the damage to eucalypt plantations in South Africa is on the rise.

The project is a collaboration between the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) based at the University of Pretoria, the ICFR’s Dr Ilaria Germishuizen and Dr Benice Sivparsad and international researchers Prof Wouter Maes of the University of Ghent in Belgium and Dr Rene Heim of the Institut für Zuckerrübenforschung.

The use of a drone to measure Gonipterus damage is key as it provides very high resolution images of the tree canopy that cannot be seen from ground level once trees reach more than 2 m height. The satellite imagery is useful in that it can detect canopy damage but is not fine enough to provide the detailed information that the researchers require.

The project has two main objectives:-
• To use satellite and drone imagery to assess and monitor the extent of canopy damage from Gonipterus.
• To understand the relationship between the canopy damage and the productivity of the compartment, which will provide forest managers with the info necessary for them to decide when and where to incur the costs of applying a chemical spray to reduce Gonipterus infestations. The info gathered from the study will also enable the researchers to assess the impact of a chemical spray application on the population of the biological control agent A. nitens.

The model that will be developed through this study will be applicable to monitor the impacts of other pests and diseases that defoliate eucalypts.

Earlier this year PhD candidate Phumlani Nzuza, Dr Michelle Schroder and Ofentse Mathibela from FABI went to the KwaZulu-Natal midlands to map Gonipterus sp. n. 2 defoliation levels using their newly acquired drone. For field ground truthing they are using ICFR’s Gonipterus impact trials at Hodgsons (Greytown) and Sutton (Ixopo)

The ICFR’s work is supported by FSA, Sappi, NCT and TWK.

Pioneering a new approach to wetland management

Mondi is introducing a new approach to wetland management that could serve as a model for other corporate landowners, and have significant impacts on other operational areas, including safety. 

Zoar wetland near Iswepe
Zoar wetland near Iswepe, 12 years after it was rehabilitated. (Photo: Maryann Rivers-Moore)
Harvesting weaving grasses from wetland Discussion composition of wetland soils
A member of the local community harvesting weaving grasses from a healthy wetland, Melmoth. Damian Walters (right), MWP: Coordinator, Wise Use of Wetland Resources Programme, discusses the composition of wetland soils with Mondi's Environment Manager: Forests, Chris Burchmore (left) and Uwe Foelster, Mondi Group Head of Sustainable Development, at Lake Merthley, Greytown. (Photo: David Lindley)
Fishing at Zoar wetland Cows grazing on Mondi wetland
Local community member fishing in the rehabilitated Zoar wetland, which is able to support people's livelihoods by providing a much-needed source of protein. (Photo: Damian Walters) The Mondi State of the Wetland report found that grazing (harvestable resources) of wetlands is an important ecosystem service provided by 64% of the wetlands found on Mondi property. (Photo: Damian Walters)

Mondi is one of the largest private owners of wetlands in South Africa, with 20 000 ha of wetlands situated in open areas on its South African plantations. As a company that takes its environmental responsibility seriously, it’s no surprise that Mondi has played a leading role – through its involvement in the Mondi Wetlands Programme (MWP) – in promoting awareness and better management and rehabilitation of wetlands.

The Mondi Wetlands Programme was established in 1991 by the Wildlife and Environment Society of SA (WESSA) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – in partnership with Mondi and the Mazda Wildlife Fund – to get South Africans working together to protect the health of wetlands, which provide a host of crucial ecological services.

Over the past 20 years, the MWP has played a major role in catalysing and supporting the government-led Working for Wetlands programme, helped provincial governments work with communal wetland users, and strengthened wetland management capacity within government and commercial landowners. It has also played a key role in raising awareness of the importance of wetlands outside of the forestry industry, and has helped the sugar industry develop a sustainable farm management system.

However, despite some important wetland rehabilitation and delineation successes, research has shown that wetland learning and practice in Mondi, and its integration into every-day forestry operations, was generally weak.

The root causes inhibiting wetland management could be as a result of institutional factors that are of historical and cultural origin within the company, and are common to other corporates as well.


The MWP team has embarked on an exciting process of unlocking the institutional barriers and creating a platform for more effective and integrated wetland management and practice by forestry employees through an 'expansive learning' process. This is a form of learning where participants work together to identify the 'barriers', and develop solutions and new forms of practice.

This process works differently from the more traditional approach of employing 'experts' to establish wetland management standards and expecting field staff to implement them.

Through an expansive learning process started in 2010 and continued into 2011, Mondi field staff responsible for wetland stewardship identified key inhibiting factors, deepened their understanding of them and developed solutions. The key participants were foresters, forestry operations supervisors, environmental support staff, and community engagement facilitators. Staff then began to implement the solutions through 11 projects in the five geographical regions of Mondi.

A culture of learning

A key component of this approach is to create a 'safe' space for staff to interact, share experiences and learn from others operating outside of their own 'silos' of professional expertise, through field days, site visits and social interaction. This encourages a culture within the organisation where learning, sharing ideas and solving problems in collaboration with relevant staff from other professional disciplines becomes a way of life.

In response to solutions identified by Mondi staff during the expansive learning process, a number of initiatives to improve institutional learning around catchment-based environmental issues have emerged. Workshops have been run with community engagement and development facilitators to support the strengthening of skills in environmental learning methods through the use of an interactive catchment-based learning tool to strengthen their community work. Follow-up workshops to support and assess the development of their competence in using the tool in their community work as well as for learning and sharing with other Mondi staff, has taken place.

Supervisor training

The MWP team has worked with WESSA's Sustain-Ed Programme to develop an environmental module for the forestry industry's Supervisor Development Training Programme that incorporates effective environmental training methods through the use of the catchment-based learning tool. A workshop will be organised for approximately six trainers, who will be running the Environmental Module for the industry, on effective and appropriate environmental learning and training methods.

This module is intended to take catchment- (including wetlands) based environmental learning into the formal training of the broader forestry industry, and can feed into and inform other industries such as sugar and mining.

Although the current project is focusing on wetland management, it has the potential to be equally game changing in other key areas of business, such as safety.

Published in February 2012