The great tree census of 2023

The great tree census of 2023 means, after 15 months spent measuring 51,324 trees across 16 hectares, Australia has joined the Forest Global Earth Observatory (FGEO).

Professor Patrick Baker, University of Melbourne, reported the work to join FGEO completed on March 30, 2023, when students from the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne measured and plotted the last of 51,324 trees in the newest plot in the Forest Global Earth Observatory.

The first ForestGEO plot was established in Panama at Barro Colorado Island (BCI) by research scientists at Princeton University, the Field Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The work was started in 1981 and took three years to complete. The plot was 50 hectares and the scientists recorded the size, species and location of every tree down to one centimetre DBH, producing a picture of the forest in scale and detail – 235,349 trees from 303 species.

Such a detailed large-scale monitoring effort had never been undertaken in Australia, until Professor Baker and his University of Melbourne crew began work in 2021 on a plot at Starvation Creek in Victoria.

A formal survey to demarcate a plot involved putting 441 precisely positioned permanent markers across the 16-hectare (160,000m²) plot to establish a grid of 400 20m-by-20m subplots called quadrats. In December, the measurement of trees began. Within each 20-by-20 metre quadrat, every tree had to be identified, measured, mapped, tagged and have a stripe painted on it, and 47 species of trees and woody shrubs were identified among more than 51,000 trees measured.

The Starvation Creek census was financially supported by the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Science and the Smithsonian Institution’s ForestGEO.

The full and fascinating story can be found here.



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