The Robert May Prize is awarded annually for the best paper published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution by an Early Career Researcher. We’re delighted to announce that the 2015 winner is Kim Calders, for his article ‘Nondestructive estimates of above-ground biomass using terrestrial laser scanning.

Kim led the work on this article and had an international team of co-authors. They have developed a way to harness laser technology for use in measurements of vegetation structure of forests. The study is an important development in the monitoring of carbon stocks for worldwide climate policy-making.

Both carbon stocks and above-ground biomass are important details for the United Nations initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) – a programme striving to reduce the destruction of forests and preserve the uptake of carbon by trees. Previously, weighing trees in forests was time-consuming, expensive and destructive – particularly in tropical forests where trees can be over 50m tall and weigh over 100 tonnes. As a result, all current estimates of tropical forest carbon stocks are based on a small number of weighed trees. Terrestrial laser scanning is an active remote sensing technique that can measure precise distances by sending out laser energy and then analysing the reflected energy. Also known as terrestrial LiDAR, the method allows us to measure biomass with far more certainty than before. While traditional methods yielded results that may have been off by as much as 37%, the LiDAR method developed by Calders et al. delivers over 90% accuracy. Essentially, we can now ‘weigh’ trees far more precisely and then determine their biomass.

This paper – which brings together ecologists, remote sensing scientists and mathematicians – is a great example of how international and interdisciplinary collaboration can be a catalyst for significant scientific progress in ecology and forestry. In one recent demonstration of the method, researchers collected laser scan measurements of over 1000 trees in just 10 days. The method will now be tested in forests that are potentially more important for worldwide carbon stocks than Australian forests, including tropical forests in Gabon, Peru, Indonesia and Guyana.

Kim undertook a BSc and MSc in Bioscience Engineering at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium. He then commenced a MSc in Remote Sensing at University College London, followed by a PhD in LiDAR Remote Sensing at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Over the course of his PhD, he has built up expertise in 3D measurements in both a research and operational context for the monitoring of vegetation dynamics. Kim is currently employed as a postdoctoral researcher with the National Physical Laboratory and UCL, where he explores the use of 3D data for end-to-end traceability of in-situ measurements and satellite-derived essential climate variables.

In addition to Kim, the following Early Career Researchers have been highly commended for their innovative articles:

Nibedita Mukherjee from the University of Cambridge, for her article ‘The Delphi technique in ecology and biological conservation: applications and guidelines. The blog post ‘The Delphi Technique: Unleashing the Power of Structured Collaboration in Anonymity‘ has more information about this article.

Stefanie Heinicke from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, for her article ‘Assessing the performance of a semi-automated acoustic monitoring system for primates‘. The blog post ‘Progress and Future Directions for Passive Acoustic Monitoring‘ has more information about this article.

The above 3 articles are included in a free virtual issue, along with all of the winning and highly commended articles from the other four British Ecological Society journals Early Career Researcher Awards.