Researchers have developed immersive virtual landscapes of intact endangered Australian ecosystems to accurately illustrate changes across time, seasons and following disturbances like bushfires.

The study created a virtual reality model of an Australian Box Gum Grassy Woodland landscape, an endangered eucalypt woodland ecosystem that is difficult to observe in its intact pre-European colonisation form. The models could potentially be used as a resource for ecological study and conservation.

The research, published in Landscape Ecology , was led by immersive visualisation researchers from Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology (IT) and a team of ecologists from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO.

Lead researcher from Monash University’s SensiLab, Dr Tom Chandler, said the purpose of the study was to explore how a woodland ecosystem might be perceived and experienced as a virtual environment.

“One of the main advantages of a virtual model is the ability to simulate change over time. This has implications for visualising landscape change in the near future, and also far back in the past,” Dr Chandler said.

“Our model focuses on vegetation changes through the seasons, and we have extended it to visualise changes to the landscape following bushfires across time, in some cases several decades later.”

CSIRO Senior Research Scientist, Dr Anna Richards, said land use, climate change and related pressures have already impacted the delicate balance of biomes across the world.

“There are very few places left in Australia where you can study healthy, intact ecosystems. These immersive landscapes have the potential to become important resources for the study and conservation of endangered ecologies,” Dr Richards said.

“Considering we can also see the landscape after it has been impacted by bushfires, this could be a vital tool for land managers and policy makers to explore and prepare for a changing future.”

The study was a collaboration between researchers from Monash University’s Faculty of IT, CSIRO, Pennsylvania State University and Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.

To view the research paper, please visit: https://bit.ly/3kPrVTC

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