• Post category:Articles
  • Post published:7.12.2023

The war on bugs – how technology can help prevent insect damage to forests

When you walk in the forest, you don't always notice insect damage. A tree can look healthy even if it's swarming with insects. Satellite images and drones can complement the human eye to provide accurate information about forest health. Time is money in forest management – the sooner technology alerts us to take action, the better we can control the damage. Finnish experts show how it's done.


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Pests can easily attack storm-damaged trees. The photo shows a forest in Ruokolahti that was hit by the storm Asta in 2010. First came the storm, then the destruction caused by the spruce bark beetle. Photo: Roope Näsi

Finland’s forests are an extremely valuable natural resource and an important asset for forest owners. Insects that cause damage, such as the European spruce bark beetle, can, in the worst case scenario, kill large areas of forest. The risks will increase as the climate is getting warmer. The spruce forests are in real danger if there are too many spruce bark beetles.

Eija Honkavaara

“There used to be one generation of spruce bark beetles in Finland in a typical summer, and they used to be moderate in number. Today, in central Europe, there can be four generations due to warming climate. Spruce bark beetles usually attack trees that are weakened, but if there are a lot of them, they can attack healthy trees as well,” says Eija Honkavaara, Research Professor at the Finnish Geospatial Research Institute (FGI).

The mission of Honkavaara’s research teams is to use remote sensing techniques to find the most efficient ways to provide information on the spread of spruce bark beetles and to develop tools to mitigate the damage.

CollectiveCrunch, a company that provides technology and data solutions based on artificial intelligence and machine learning models, is following the research and development in this field with interest. CollectiveCrunch’s products allow customers to monitor forest health, biodiversity and changes in carbon sequestration, among other things.

“Our company was born because customers in the forest industry needed accurate and up-to-date information for forest-related modelling. We combine open data and customers’ own data in our products. Our products provide up-to-date information about the forest, making it easier for forest owners to plan forest management activities and forest visits in a timely manner,” says Mika Korvenranta, Chief Product Officer at CollectiveCrunch. In November, the company received the Excellence Finland innovation award for its application against forest pests.

Mika Korvenranta

Satellite images provide basis for forest monitoring

Both satellite and drone imagery have a role to play in monitoring spruce bark beetle damage. A challenging part is identifying the early stages of the spread of the spruce bark beetle, when dead and diseased trees appear as individual trees scattered across a forest area.

“After a storm, for example, it’s important to know where the fallen trees are and that information is needed quickly. Fallen trees must be removed in time to prevent the spread of the spruce bark beetle. This requires fast decision making and accurate information,” says Eija Honkavaara.

Satellite imagery provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) will help develop cost-effective solutions and will be particularly useful in identifying damage, especially where there is already a lot of damage in the forest. Larger areas can be viewed automatically using satellite imagery. On the other hand, satellites produce data at their own pace and, due to variations in cloud cover, not all areas are always covered by images. Combined with other data, satellite images provide an excellent basis for forest monitoring. CollectiveCrunch automatically monitors the insect pest situation throughout Finland with its product.    

“Our customers give us good feedback on our products. The accuracy is good and the products help to plan work, direct resources and save money by detecting insect infestations at an early stage,” says Mika Korvenranta.

It pays to combine methods

Alongside satellite imagery, the use of drones is becoming more common. The advantage of drones is that they fly under clouds, so they can produce data even in cloudy weather. Moreover, the data they produce is highly accurate. On the other hand, they still require a human pilot and a single drone cannot cover very large areas. Honkavaara’s team has been investigating what drones can do.

“When a spruce bark beetle attacks a tree, the symptoms on the trunk include boring holes, sawdust, and resin leaks. An autonomous drone flying in the forest could be one solution to see this very early stage of an attack. On the other hand, while waiting for these latest innovations to mature into practical tasks, hyperspectral cameras and precision sensors can be used to study canopy symptoms from above. Our research has shown that symptoms caused by spruce bark beetles can be seen in the canopy within a few weeks,” says Honkavaara.

In this video, a novel prototype of an autonomously navigating drone by FGI is flying inside a boreal spruce forest. The video shows one test flight where the objective was to fly autonomously 80 m forward inside a dense and snowy spruce forest. The left video is recorded with a mobile phone from behind the drone, the upper-right video shows the same flight from the point-of-view of the drone’s onboard camera, and the lower-right video shows the 3D grid map and trajectories planned by the drone. Video: Väinö Karjalainen and Teemu Hakala

Much potential for internationalization

There is a demand for companies like CollectiveCrunch and forest-related products, as the well-being of forests on a global scale is a big issue. The digitalisation of the Finnish forest sector is well advanced and, for example, open forest information is widely available. Networks also work well when you are active in them. Mika Korvenranta sees Finnish premises as an advantage:

“From an internationalisation point of view, the Finns have a good starting point for scaling up to other countries where digitalisation is less advanced. The forest sector is diverse and the world has not yet been solved, so there is potential for innovation,” says Korvenranta, welcoming new entrepreneurs to the field.

“You have to be prepared to work hard, and getting your own product right is very important. We have invested a lot in that. We want to contribute to the health and well-being of forests, and being able to work on it is very meaningful,” says Korvenranta.

According to Korvenranta, one of the benefits of the Location Innovation Hub could be that it can help to network with the right actors and support the internationalisation efforts of companies. CollectiveCrunch is an international company. However, it does not yet operate throughout Europe.

“It would be important for us to gain visibility in different European countries, find the right stakeholders and partners, and better understand the issues in different markets so that we can develop our business to meet local needs. It will be of real benefit if the Location Innovation Hub can help with this,” Korvenranta says.

CollectiveCrunch’s products allow customers to monitor forest health, biodiversity and changes in carbon sequestration.

Location Innovation Hub (LIH) is part of the European network of digital innovation hubs. The European networks are available to LIH clients. Location Innovation Hub also has its own forestry network, which organises activities and events. We also offer a range of test environments that can be used to test innovations. Through our partner network, you can access training and consultancy to develop digitalisation in the forest sector. We also help you to find and obtain funding. Interested? Contact us and let’s see how we can help!