New Technology Allows Conservationists to Remotely Identify Regions with High Biodiversity

Scientists from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory recently developed a new tool for identifying forests with high biodiversity. The technique allows researchers to locate areas that might need protection. The details were just published in the journal Science.

Conservationists have a tough job when deciding which sections of the tropics to monitor and protect. Available data on tropical forest ranges is often incomplete and riddled with errors or vague information. There’s also no easy way to identify biodiverse regions, areas that would need the most protection.

A team of researchers attempted to improve current methods of tropical forest mapping by using a technique called airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy. The method allowed researchers to detect and identify chemicals in tree canopies. Plants release different chemicals during normal processes such as photosynthesis. Measuring the chemical concentrations can allow researchers to determine the density and variety of plants in the area. When combined with satellite mapping, the team could get a full picture of the composition and biodiversity of individual forest regions. They tested their new method in Peru, an area that lacks proper maps of many of their tropical forests. Using airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy, the team identified biodiversity hot spots—areas with a large number of plant and animal species. The researchers collaborated with the Peruvian Ministry of Environment and found 30 million acres of biodiverse Amazonian forest that would need protection. They also discovered two more targets for conservation, 7 million acres of Peruvian peatland forest and 1.5 million acres of Andean forests. These regions would have been difficult to discover without modern mapping tools.

The new technology, which allows researchers to remotely scan and discover biodiverse forest regions, will aid conservation efforts. The team hopes to begin using their maps on a global scale to help conservationists identify the most biodiverse regions.

REFERENCE

Asner et al. Airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy to map forest trait diversity and guide conservation. Science (2017).

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