Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland have taken a novel approach to studying biological diversity by making use of laser remote sensing (lidar). Lidar data provide unique measurements of the 3-dimensional structure of vegetation, an important aspect of habitat diversity. Habitat heterogeneity and complexity have been shown in many places to be directly related to animal species richness a more complex environment provides a greater number of ecological niches to be filled by different species. Using this basic principle, WHRC scientists examined the relationships between bird species richness and habitat metrics derived from lidar data acquired by aircraft. They then explored the efficacy of predicting bird richness and abundance based on these metrics. The first phase of this research, profiled in the current issue of Remote Sensing of Environment, focuses on results from study sites in the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge in Maryland.
According to Scott Goetz, a senior scientist at the Center who is leading the project, "Lidar is the most unique and exciting technology to come along in the past decade in the remote sensing research community. We now have the ability to characterize vegetation in three dimensions, and that has implications not only for biodiversity research but also for improved estimates of biomass and carbon stocks."
While some recent studies that have assessed the utility of satellite remote sensing for mapping aspects of biological diversity, they have relied solely optical imagery, particularly LandSat, to characterize horizontal variability in habitat, such as the mixture of different land cover types. Utilizing lidar provides information in the vertical dimension, that is, in the terms of canopy profiles describing the vertical distribution of canopy elements, like leaves and branches. This information is then translated into canopy metrics for ev
Contact: Elizabeth Braun
Woods Hole Research Center