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New generation satellite imagery pinpoints a challenging weed target

Mesquite

The application of new generation satellite imagery to one of Australia’s most problematic invasive weed species, mesquite, by the Department’s Dr Todd Robinson and his Curtin University group has removed the major impediments for adopting semi-automated mapping – high level discrimination between coexisting species and the ability to map average sized plants.

Mesquite is a challenging plant to detect in the Pilbara, even for human observers on low flying helicopters, because it remains heavily defoliated for most of the year since the release of a biological control agent in the late 90s. So to be able to detect and discriminate it from other trees and shrubs using sensors on board the WorldView-2 satellite operating almost 800 km above the Earth’s surface is very exciting.

The research outcomes will improve weed management plans for farmers and mining companies working on large areas of land, such as in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Todd says the technology can be used as a monitoring tool by repeatedly acquiring the same imagery to see how much it changes and how much it is invading the area over time.

What’s next? The team hope to soon develop a suite of tools to enable on-demand mesquite mapping quickly and efficiently. Eventually, they will also like to test the portability of these tools to other weeds of national significance, especially other Pilbara nuisances such as Parkinsonia (Parkinsonia aculeate).