From: Carnegie Science
Published January 26, 2017 02:53 PM

High-Tech Maps of Tropical Forest Diversity Identify New Conservation Targets

New remote sensing maps of the forest canopy in Peru test the strength of current forest protections and identify new regions for conservation effort, according to a report led by Carnegie’s Greg Asner published in Science.

Asner and his Carnegie Airborne Observatory team used their signature technique, called airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy, to identify preservation targets by undertaking a new approach to study global ecology—one that links a forest’s variety of species to the strategies for survival and growth employed by canopy trees and other plants. Or, to put it in scientist-speak, their approach connects biodiversity and functional diversity.

The study of biodiversity traditionally uses fieldwork to inventory the types of species living in a habitat. And current Earth-observing satellites cannot observe forests with this level of detail. Asner and his flying laboratory team were able to bridge this gap between field biodiversity studies and satellite-based mapping by revealing the distribution and concentrations of the key plant chemicals that indicate a forest canopy’s function as well as its identity.

“We developed a new approach to simultaneously map both the functional and biological composition of forest canopies throughout the Peruvian Andes and Amazon basin,” Asner said. “This led to the discovery of previously unknown forest assemblages, and allowed us to assess how Peru is doing in their network of conservation protections, including on land controlled by indigenous peoples.”

“Protecting representative networks of parks and reserves is a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. The designs of these networks are based on imperfect data, often with many gaps, especially in tropical countries like Peru where vast regions remain to be sampled. In a brilliant effort that straddles basic science and conservation, Asner and his team offer those working in applied conservation biology a new kind of road map to detect critical omissions in such regional networks,” said Eric Dinerstein, Director of Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions at Resolve.

Their approach works because plants are like individual chemical factories, taking in nutrients, water and carbon, and synthesizing a portfolio of products. Measuring the concentrations of different chemicals over large swaths of the forest canopy indicates what strategies plants are employing for growth and survival, and how these strategies vary by geography, topography, hydrology, and climate.

Read more at Carnegie Science

Photo credit: Greg Asner

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