Satellites could be used to track biodiversity levels

Academics argue satellite data can save wildlife levels

Greater cooperation between conservation scientists and space agencies such as Nasa and the European Space Agency (Esa) with access to satellite data could help better protect global biodiversity, researchers believe.

Using satellite images can quickly reveal the loss of biological diversity as vegetation productivity or leaf cover can be measured from space.

Andrew Skidmore, Professor in Spatial Environmental Resource Dynamics at the ITC Faculty of the University of Twente, and Nathalie Pettorelli, researcher at the Zoological Society of London, have argued for the greater use of satellite data in the scientific journal Nature.

Nasa and Esa do currently release data collected by their satellites, but a lack of agreement between conservationists and the space agencies about how to set out variables to track biodiversity and how the data can be accurately translated has meant that the information has so far been left largely unused.

In the article, Skidmore wrote: “Satellite imagery from major space agencies is becoming more freely available, and images are of much higher resolution than 10 years ago. Our ambition to monitor biodiversity from space is now being matched by actual technical capacity. As conservation and remote sensing communities join forces, biodiversity can be monitored on a global scale. High-tech satellites can assist in conserving biological diversity by tracking the impact of environmental policies worldwide.”

Pettorelli explained that there is a pressing need to find a use for the satellite data as wildlife population levels have fallen dramatically in recent years.

“With global wildlife populations halved in just 40 years, there is a real urgency to identify variables that both capture key aspects of biodiversity change and can be monitored consistently and globally," she said. "Satellites can help deliver such information, and in ten years’ time, global biodiversity monitoring from space could be a reality, but only if ecologists and space agencies agreed on a priority list of satellite-based data that is essential for tracking changes in biodiversity.”

“So far biodiversity monitoring has been mostly species-based, and this means that some of the changes happening on a global scale may be missed. Being able to look at the planet as a whole could literally provide a new perspective on how we conserve biological diversity.”

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