Help wanted on tracking biodiversity from space

12 August 2015

Conservation organisations and space agencies are being called on to join forces to decide how changes in biodiversity can be monitored globally. What, exactly, should be measured by satellites?

Biodiversity refers to the different types of life found on Earth. While it is a measure of the variety of organisms in ecosystems, it is difficult to quantify because it cannot be assessed in physical units, unlike other aspects of global change.

Biodiversity is not evenly distributed, but varies greatly around the globe as well as within regions. Among other factors, the diversity of all living things depends on temperature, precipitation, altitude, soils, geography and the presence of other species.

Researchers have tried to define a set of biodiversity variables that can be monitored globally from space. However, insufficient access to data, uncertainties in the continuity of observations and limitations of satellite imagery means there is still some way to go.

A recently published Nature article focused on the importance of identifying essential biodiversity variables and the need to produce a strategy to allow them to be tracked globally from space.

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