Professor David Gillieson

Professor David Gillieson

Professor of Geography

Bachelor of Arts with Honours (QLD)


Graduate Diploma of GIS and Remote Sensing (CSturt)

Visit: Room A2-218, Cairns campus

Call: (+61) 7 4042 1436

Fax (+61) 7 4042 1364

Email: David.Gillieson

Research Interests

My research is focused on using GIS and remote sensing to support natural resource management in tropical Australia and adjacent regions. I also have a strong interest in resource management and development issues in tropical limestone terrains.

In 2007-08 I led an ACIAR funded project which completed the first inventory of wild sandalwood stocks in Vanuatu. This project involved the compilation of spatial datasets (land use, vegetation, climate, satellite imagery) and integration of our own field data plus data from the Vanuatu Department of Forestry. Project report can be viewed and downloaded at

Another current project aims to evaluate the nature, extent and severity of rainforest damage following the impact of severe tropical cyclone Larry in March 2006. Specific aims are:

  • Accurate mapping of the extent and nature of rainforest canopy damage along the track of Cyclone Larry

  • Monitoring the recovery of canopy and structural integrity using combined field and satellite observations

Accurate mapping of the extent and nature of rainforest canopy damage along the track of Cyclone Larry is based on both medium-resolution radar and optical remote sensing. Ongoing monitoring of the recovery of canopy closure and structural integrity is using combined rapid field assessment and satellite observations. This survey will establish a benchmark condition of rainforests following the impact of Cyclone Larry. Repeat surveys in subsequent years should allow evaluation of the recovery of the forest sites. Comparison will also be made with patterns of damage following Cyclone Winifred (1986) obtained from analysis of archival Landsat imagery and published CSIRO research.

I am currently using a UAV (unmanned airborne vehicle or drone) with both visible and near infra-red photo capabilities to provide on-demand images for natural resource management applications in northern Australia. We have been mapping weed infestations in riparian vegetation, feral pig damage in Lakefield National Park, and crop pathogens in precision agriculture. See a press release at for an example of our work.

From 2005 to 2008 I led The Dynamic Savanna project for the Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre. This project was about assessing and managing structural change in woody vegetation in northern Australian savannas. The overall objective of the project was to increase the ability of land managers and policy makers to make informed decisions regarding the management of woody vegetation dynamics in the savannas of north Australia. Fifteen scientists from universities, CSIRO and State government agencies were involved in the research, and are now communicating the results through papers, a book and websites. Some research results can be viewed under Vegetation Change at while project data can be viewed at

My other area of interest is in the geomorphology and conservation of caves. I have been actively involved in karst and cave conservation nationally and internationally for twenty five years. Specifically, as a member of the World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN) I have carried out technical reviews of eight World Heritage nominations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Phillippines, China, Argentina, France, Slovak Republic and Turkey. I was a co-author of the IUCN guidelines for cave and karst protection (1997), which has been translated into twelve languages and is the international standard for management planning.

Brief description of research impact:

  • Developed a range of analytical techniques based on high resolution satellite imagery and digital aerial photography that make it possible to rapidly assess the ecological integrity and biodiversity value of riparian forests. In addition, we have for the first time found a way to map fire scars in steep rainforested terrain. We have developed some effective techniques for measuring canopy connectivity across roads in rainforested areas, combining GIS and optical satellite imagery. These make it possible to target field surveys in areas of concern, resulting in savings of time and ultimately cost for conservation management agencies, utility providers such as electricity and roads, and local government.

  • Successful karst and cave conservation through technical reviews and nominations

Selectedrecent publications:

Felderhof L,Gillieson D, Zadro P and van Boven A. (2008) Preliminary Assessment of UAV Technology for the Macadamia Industry and Precision Agriculture in General, Final report for Horticulture Australia project MC07016, 43pp.

Gillieson D., Page T. and Silverman J. (2008) An inventory of wild sandalwood stocks in Vanuatu, ACIAR Project FST/2006/118, ACIAR, Canberra, 53pp. ISBN 978 1 921434 38 9

Gillieson DS, Lawson T & Searle LE (2008) Applications of high resolution remote sensing in rainforest ecology and management. In: Living in a Dynamic Tropical Forest Landscape (eds NE Stork & SM Turton), 334 - 348. Blackwell Publishing

Gillieson, D. 2006. Learning from the tropics: Biological and geomorphological processes. A commentary on Michael F. Thomas’s ‘Lessons from the tropics for a global geomorphology’ Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 27: 131–133.

Gillieson, D. 2006 Illuminating the darkness under the earth, Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21(2): 69-70.

Gillieson DS (2005) Karst in Southeast Asia. In: The Physical Geography of Southest Asia (ed. A Gupta), 157 - 176. Oxford University Press, New York

Reed EH & Gillieson DS (2003) Mud and Bones: Cave deposits and environmental history in Australia. In: Beneath the Surface: A natural history of Australian caves (eds B Finlayson & E Hamilton-Smith), 89. University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney

Lawson TJ, Goosem MW & Gillieson DS (2008) Rapid assessment of habitat quality in riparian rainforest vegetation. Pacific Conservation Biology, 14 (1/2), 20 - 33

Moore NJ & Gillieson DS (2008) Using field survey and remote sensing to assess rainforest canopy damage following Cyclone Larry. Austral Ecology, 33 (4), 417 - 431

Lawson TJ, Gillieson DS & Goosem MW (2007) Assessment of Riparian Rainforest Vegetation Change in Tropical North Queensland for Management and Restoration Purposes. Geographical Research, 45 (4), 387 - 397

Nott J, Haig JE, Neil H & Gillieson DS (2007) Greater frequency variability of landfalling tropical cyclones at centennial compared to seasonal and decadal scales. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 255 (2007), 367 - 372

Felderhof L & Gillieson DS (2006) Comparison of fire patterns and fire frequency in two tropical savanna bioregions. Austral Ecology, 31, 736 - 746

Gillieson DS (2006) Learning from the Tropics: Biological and geomorphological processes. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 27 (2), 131 - 133

Paull D, Banks G, Ballard C & Gillieson DS (2006) Monitoring the Environmental Impact of Mining in Remote Locations through Remotely Sensed Data. Geocarto International, 21 (1), 33 - 42

Gillieson DS (2004) Asia, Southeast Islands. In: Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science (ed J Gunn), 104 - 107. Fitzroy Dearborn, New York

Gillieson DS (2004) Sediments: Allochthonous Clastic. In: Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science (ed J Gunn), 633 - 634. Fitzroy Dearborn, New York

Gillieson DS (2004) Chillagoe and Mitchell-Palmer Karsts, Australia. In: Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science (ed J Gunn), 215 - 216. Fitzroy Dearborn, New York

Gillieson DS (2004) Floral Resources. In: Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science (ed J Gunn), 360 - 362. Fitzroy Dearborn, New York

Gillieson DS (2004) Nullarbor Plain, Australia. In: Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science (ed J Gunn), 544 - 546. Fitzroy Dearborn, New York

For a full list of Publications browse ResearchOnline@JCU

Postgraduate Students:

Jennie Gilbert (MSc) Environmental linkages between habitat and sea-turtle health status, as measured by acute and chronic blood chemistry dynamics

Chris Holloway (PhD) Spatial distribution of patch grazing and pasture selection by cattle in a semi-arid tropical savanna

Liz Pryde (PhD) Does the landscape mosaic of native /Eucalyptus deglupta/ plantations and logged-over forest on the Gazelle Peninsula, Papua New Guinea, provide sustainable habitat for local rainforest wildlife?

Sarah Connor (PhD) Tracing nitrogen through wet tropical aquifers.

Bolhan Budeng (PhD) Habitat modelling and management strategies for Proboscis Monkeys, Bako National Park, Sarawak

Damien O’Grady (PhD) Monitoring of broad scale extent and variability of flood plain inundation in the tropics using multitemporal remote sensing

Personal research web site