Forest health surveillance forms a significant part of biosecurity monitoring and effective integrated pest management programs. Conventional methods in tree health and insect pest monitoring can be costly and labour intensive. Therefore, the Remote Sensing of Plant Health Satellite Lab at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (FABI) established an innovative research project aligned with the fourth industrial revolution in the forestry sector. The project aims to develop a detection and monitoring system for an economically-important leaf-feeding insect pest using Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAVs) and satellite remote sensing.

The Eucalyptus snout beetle, Gonipterus sp. n. 2, is an invasive insect native to Australia and a significant defoliator of Eucalyptus. Management of Gonipterus sp. n. 2 relies mainly on classical biological control by an egg parasitoid Anaphes nitens. A. nitens was introduced in South Africa in 1924. The pest was managed under the economic threshold by 1950. However, frequent outbreaks of the Eucalyptus snout beetle are observed, resulting in significant damage to Eucalyptus plantations.

In February, PhD candidate Phumlani Nzuza, Dr Michelle Schröder and Ofentse Mathibela, went to the KwaZulu-Natal midlands (Greytown and Ixopo) to map Gonipterus sp. n. 2 defoliation levels using a newly acquired UAV as part of the monitoring Gonipterus sp. n. 2 experimental trial. The project is in collaboration Prof. Wouter Maes University of Ghent and Dr René Heim Institut für Zuckerrübenforschung, Dr Ilaria Germishuizen and Dr Benice Sivsparsad from the ICFR, and SAPPI and Mondi. We would like to thank Prof. Jolanda Roux from SAPPI, for her assistance in the field.