Evaluating landscape change using new methods for classifying and georeferencing land cover information in oblique photographs
The effects of fire exclusion policies and a warming climate have resulted in Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) populations increasing to epidemic proportions in recent decades throughout their historical range. Of particular concern is the expansion of MPB into novel habitats, such as northern Alberta, where the broad-scale ecological changes occurring in pine forests are having significant socio-economic impacts. The rationale behind James’ research is to gain a better understanding of these ecological changes by investigating the implications of the MPB outbreak on the historical range of variability of ecosystems in Jasper National Park. Studying HRV improves ecosystem management by providing knowledge of ecosystem processes and species adaptions to change and can be used as a reference for establishing the range of desired future conditions.
This research project leverages the oblique image collections of the Mountain Legacy Project and employs innovative methods that enable historic and repeat oblique photographs to yield land cover information that can be accurately georeferenced in a GIS. This approach will enable historical land cover data to be derived from historical photographs captured in Jasper National Park in 1915, which can provide a snapshot of the composition and configuration of ecosystems in the park under the historical fire regime. This reference baseline can then be used in conjunction with more recent land cover data (derived from oblique, aerial and satellite imagery) to quantify the changes that have occurred on the landscape in the park due to fire exclusion and the recent MPB outbreak.
The value of this research is to increase the temporal depth of ecological monitoring in the park and allow managers and restoration practitioners to develop a better understanding of how and where the MPB outbreak may be altering ecological processes that could result in key thresholds to be exceeded and cause regime shifts. Regime shifts could substantially alter the flow of ecosystem services in the park and have important implications for human livelihoods and community well-being. Additionally, this research can support a variety of operational decisions including restoration activities (i.e., prescribed burns), fire-smart actions, community relations with the town of Jasper, and visitor education programs.
PhD Candidate – School of Environmental Studies
James is interested in understanding the drivers and implications of rapid ecological change in mountain environments. Under the supervision of Dr. Eric Higgs, his doctoral research is focused on developing new methods to identify and map “new natures” in Canadian Rockies using the Mountain Legacy Project image collection. He holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Geography from Rhodes University, South Africa and a M.Sc. in GIS from the University of Leeds, UK.