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Scientists have created ‘cyberforests’ computer simulation that grows realistic 3D forests down to the branches, leaves and roots of individual trees to determine how drought, wildfires and other climate related changes may affect real forests.
The model christened as LES, uses computing power to grow 100×100-metre stands of drought and shade tolerant trees that can then be scaled up to actual forest size.
Nikolay Strigul, assistant professor at Washington State University (WSU) Vancouver in US said, it’s a tool that forest managers can use to create 3D representations of their own forests and simulate what will happen to them in the future.
It is the only forest-growing simulator that creates intricate root systems and canopy structures for each tree. Previous forest simulators could either grow one or the other.
He further said that below ground, the roots of different trees in LES compete for water resources in each pixel of the model. Above ground, the leaves in each tree’s canopy compete for sunlight in a similar fashion.
Over time, the trees canopies change shape to expose their leaves to more sunlight.
How the researchers worked
The researchers used a combination of data from the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Programme and other forestry databases, as well as aerial reconnaissance from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or drones, to customize their model to particular forests.
The simulator lets scientists project how changing climate conditions will impact forests over thousands of years.
Jean Lienard, a postdoctoral researcher at WSU said, they use this data to develop 3D models that have real distributions of space and ecological features.
For large parts of North America, climate change is leading to more frequent drought, warmer weather and other varying natural conditions, researchers found.
The researchers plan to use LES to help forest managers determine which species of trees and other ecological factors are necessary for forests to re-establish themselves after being destroyed by wildfires and other disturbances.