Contributor Spotlight: Cam Webb

In today's Contributor Spotlight we feature Cam Webb, our resident botanist.

Cam grew up and attended university in the United Kingdom. After graduating in 1989, he volunteered on a forest ecology project in the Gunung Palung National Park in Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia. His time researching the biology of the forest inspired him to pursue a PhD in Ecology and Evolution at Dartmouth College, returning to Kalimantan to work on his thesis on seedling regeneration.

After earning his PhD, Cam continued working at Gunung Palungon on a variety of botanical projects. He spent 10 years living in a village called Sukadana, near the park, where he assisted in the establishment of a medical clinic and forest conservation NGO, Alam Sehat Lestari, which focuses on providing villagers healthcare and training in sustainable livelihoods. In 2009, he worked with this NGO and Gunung Palung Park staff to create a reforestation program within the park’s degraded boundary, which complimented his ongoing work recording the park’s flora.

In 2015, Cam moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, in the USA. He is still involved with Gunung Palung today, remotely working to create a digital “flora,” or a register of images and descriptions of all the plant species that can be found in the park. He is undertaking similar work in Alaska; one of his current projects includes taxonomic informatics for new flora (a comprehensive list of plants) in Alaska. While the number of tree species is very different between Borneo and Interior Alaska, the total number of plant species in Alaska is still large with approximately 2,300 species, and learning the plants of Alaska has been a fascinating new challenge.

After moving to Alaska, Cam joined the Alaska Developers’ Alliance, where he met our Executive Director, Ezra Jay. In mid 2020, Cam began working with the Greenstand machine learning team, whose goal is to build a training set of tree photo captures identified by species. This is a massive set of images of one species, designed to “teach” artificial intelligence how to properly identify the species in the images. This helps our team to automate the verification of tree capture photos and therefore speeds up the process of verifying tree photos and turning them into digital Impact Tokens.

Identifying seedlings in these images is challenging, requiring botanical knowledge and detective skills, but for Cam it has been great fun. Many planting projects around the world use a set of common reforestation species: fruit trees like mango and soursop, timber trees like mahogany, and forage species like gliricidia. But most projects also include some native species and Cam particularly enjoys getting to know some of the local tree flora from each site. The machine learning team has been working most closely with our partners at The Haiti Tree Project to document the species on this project as an initial trial before undertaking this for every project using the Treetracker, so the list of reforestation species for Haiti is currently the most complete. The data Cam has collected thus far has allowed him to create a “digital herbarium,” or a place to digitally store accumulated standardized information about taxa, including photographs that can be used as a “field guide” for identifying tree species in tree capture photos that are uploaded to the Treetracker system. 

For Cam, the Greenstand project represents a “great marriage of technology and forest restoration.” He has been amazed at what can be achieved by an almost totally volunteer organization. “Trees are special - almost anyone you ask will likely have a story about a tree that is close to their heart.” Greenstand’s mission to preserve trees and serve tree growers resonates with people on an emotional level, which sets Greenstand apart from similar technological organizations. 

When Cam isn’t helping organizations around the world keep track of their growing trees, he enjoys exploring the natural beauty of Alaska with his dog, Zamboni, spending much of their time in the woods.

We hope you enjoyed this Contributor Spotlight! You can learn more about Greenstand contributors by visiting our Community page!

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Greenstand Communications Team