In partnership with Radaz and UNICAMP, the action aims to locate underground nests to expand and improve monitoring and control of leaf-cutter ants in planted forests
São Paulo, – Klabin, Brazil’s largest exporter of packaging paper and sustainable solutions in paper packaging, is in the final phase of evaluating a pilot project for testing ant monitoring using drone-borne radar. The first of its kind the world, the project hopes to identify colonies of leaf-cutter ants, one of the main pests of forest plantations, during pre- and post-planting phases, which would improve pest monitoring and control to promote better tree development.
The action is the result of a collaborative project by Klabin with Radaz, a company specializing in Remote Sensory Radar, a student pursuing a doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering from UNICAMP, Gian Carlos Oré Huacles, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Hugo Figueroa, and other renowned specialists, such as, Prof. Dr. Alexandre dos Santos (IFMT), Prof. Dr. Ronald Zanetti (UFLA), Prof. Dr. Daniele Ukan (UNICENTRO) and Msc. Mariane Bueno Camargo, a specialist researcher at Klabin. The project, which began in the research phase some two years ago and advanced to pilot testing in the field in 2022, consists of unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with radar that fly over plantations to capture images of the subsoil to identify ant colonies.
Bruno Afonso Magro, Forestry Research and Development Manager at Klabin, said that monitoring leaf-cutter ants is a constant activity in forest management, especially given the insect’s high potential for causing damage, which can reduce yields by over 15% if not controlled. “Typically, ant monitoring is performed by sampling of areas through human action. Automating this activity is a technological breakthrough with advantages such as the ability to see underground, which already represents an important advance, as well as the greater agility and precision of visualizing the entire planted area and the reduction in pesticide use on plantations,” he explained.
The pilot project is being developed on Klabin’s commercially planted areas in Telêmaco Borba, Paraná using synthetic-aperture radar (SAR). Different types of flight were tested considering the changes in the radar’s position on the drone to identify the most accurate model. We identified nests at depths of down to four meters, which attests to the effectiveness of this approach.
“The UAV-based SAR system followed linear and helical flight paths to map the eucalyptus forest areas. Obtaining subsurface tomography data is made possible by helical paths, which enable the SAR system to collect data from the target area for the most time possible, and by the lower frequency signal, such as P band, that is made available by the SAR system and offers a high level of penetration. The data obtained from the SAR system was processed using deep-learning technique oriented for images, reaching a colony detection rate of 80% without false alarms,” explained Gian Carlos Oré Huacles, the student in the doctoral program responsible for the project.
From the technical viewpoint, Magro explains that the project is extremely sophisticated and innovative for the forestry industry. “The study demonstrates the feasibility of SAR mapping for underground detection of leaf-cutter ant colonies. This is the world’s first registration of an ant colony underground using this technology, which represents a great achievement for science,” said Klabin’s Forestry Research and Development Manager.
Recognized globally for the sustainability of its operations, Klabin registers some of the highest forestry yields for the genera Eucalyptus and Pinus, with more than 273,000 hectares under cultivation. The Company conducts studies for evaluating and monitoring pests with a constant focus on Forestry R&D to mitigate impacts and advance in biological controls whenever necessary. Forestry yields also are incorporated in the Company’s Agenda 2030, being included in the KODS, the Klabin Sustainable Development Goals, a set of short-, medium- and long-term commitments that organize and guide the priority Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) marks for the Company and are aligned with its strategic growth plan.