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Computer modelling of tree branching architecture and its significance for ecosystem productivity

Supervisor: David Coomes and External Co-Supervisors.

Reference Code: B231

Importance of the area of research:  The topic is fundamental in nature, exploring the functional significance of the variety of life.

Project summary:  Ecologists have long been fascinated by the diversity of tree branching architectures, and have sought to understand how architecture translates into the light interception by individual trees and whole communities (Sachs & Novoplansky 1995).  However progress in answering these questions has been slow, because calculating how much light is intercepted by 3D crowns is complex and a theoretical perspective on crown develop has been lacking.  Recent advances in computer science provide a fresh opportunity to explore this topic.  First, it is now possible to construct virtual 3D plants by digitisaton or laser scanning, from which light interception properties can be calculated.  Secondly, Palubicki et al. (2013) have developed a computer models that produces realistic looking (and beautiful!) trees using series of rules to determine how meristems respond to environmental stimuli.  Palubicki et al. (2013) discovered that only a few mathematical functions are needed to simulate the diversity of architectural forms found in nature.  Finally,  virtual forests can be grown using advanced simulators and ray tracing algorithms used to estimate light interception.  This project will use all these tools to explore the ecology and evolution of tree crown architecture and its significance for ecosystem functioning.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.