NCEAS Working Group Identifies Ecological Priorities for Future NASA Satelite Mission

Technological tools and informatics now exist that could produce essential high-resolution global-scale data on the functional biodiversity of the Earth’s vegetation. The NASA sponsored Prospects and priorities for satellite monitoring of global terrestrial biodiversity Working Group identified the ecological priorities for future monitoring and imagery from space. Working Group recommendations "Monitoring plant functional diversity from space" were published in Nature Plants. The authors call for a satellite mission designed to track global changes in plant functional diversity. A mission of this nature would improve predictions of future change and fill critical knowledge gaps on the pace and consequences of the changes.

"The suggested mission and associated research would capture information of ecological relevance at unprecedented scale and detail," said lead author Walter Jetz, Yale University.  "It would allow us to characterize and monitor key biodiversity attributes and processes in a globally contiguous way. This has the potential to transform our ability to understand and predict global biodiversity patterns in space and time."

Imaging spectroscopy is a well-established, continuously advancing technology that can monitor terrestrial plant functional biodiversity in a way that is vastly richer and more sensitive than other remote sensing techniques. Satellite technology can provide global coverage at spatial resolutions sufficiently fine (30 to 60 m pixel size) to support biodiversity inference and applications. These resolutions capture dimensions of the entire large-scale system that can help place the microscale measurements in context.

"In an era of rapid global change, ground based methods cannot track the changes in functional biodiversity as fast as they happen," said author Jeanine Cavender-Bares, University of Minnesota. "We are at a moment when technological advances have allowed for detection of critical functions and functional diversity of plants around the global on a continuous basis. Maintaining the Earth’s life support systems and managing the ecosystem services that contribute to human well-being requires this level of detailed planetary monitoring of the biota."

Plant functional biodiversity observations from space would link key dimensions of ecosystem processes such as the carbon cycle, the water cycle, and the provisioning of ecosystem services. The authors advocate that it would “revolutionize large-scale research on the stability and resilience of ecosystems to shocks such as drought, fire, and pathogen outbreaks”.

Monitoring plant functional diversity from space
Walter Jetz, Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Ryan Pavlick, David Schimel, Frank W. Davis, Gregory P. Asner,
Robert Guralnick, Jens Kattge, Andrew M. Latimer, Paul Moorcroft, Michael E. Schaepman,
Mark P. Schildhauer, Fabian D. Schneider, Franziska Schrodt, Ulrike Stahl and Susan L. Ustin
NATURE PLANTS, Vol 2, March 2016


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Posted on March 3, 2016