Australian engineers are networking soil and trees, lending a high-tech hand to some vital conservation efforts.

A team from the University of Canberra has designed and installed a network of wireless sensor nodes to monitor forest conditions at the National Arboretum.

The network will eventually replace the manual task of testing and recording soil conditions across 104 forests of native and exotic trees spanning over 250 hectares.

Sensor data including temperature and moisture of the soil is sent via an advanced wireless mesh system to a cloud-based server, allowing Arboretum staff to access the information on nearly any device or in any location.

“Before the first nodes were installed among the Chinese Tulip Trees... that location was just one stop on a month-long route for a staff member around the Arboretum to test all of these conditions and when the loop was finished it was time to start again,” said Dr Kumudu Munasinghe, Assistant Professor of Network Engineering at the University of Canberra.

“Now that same data is collected, analysed and updated four times a day, providing the forest managers with critical soil condition information to ensure the trees grow and develop in the most ideal circumstances.”

The data generated from the Arboretum could be used for many purposes besides the management of the trees, Dr Munasinghe said.

“The information, which is at the fingertips of the Arboretum staff, could be used for better event planning or to help staff guide visitors to avoid areas affected after heavy rain.”

The mesh network will also help research and knowledge-gathering about the Arboretum’s rare, endangered and symbolic trees, the forests and their ecology.

National Arboretum manager Scott Saddler said visitors had already noticed the tech injection.

“These nodes stand-out in the middle of one of the first forests which guests pass on their way into the Arboretum. We do get quite a few questions about the computer-tree,” Mr Saddler said.

“Knowing that the information is coming straight from the forest to our staff and we can make well-informed decisions around watering and other care that we might need to take, is really critical to ‘growing’ a world-renowned institution.

The Arboretum is now looking to expand the bespoke ‘Internet of Things’ technology across its other 103 forests.