College of Science

Connecting Earth observation to high-throughput biodiversity data

Congratulations Dr. John Olson!

Dr. John Olson recently co-authored a peer reviewed article in Nature, Ecology and Evolution on using satellite Earth observations to interpolate point observations of biodiversity across landscapes. The paper, published on June 22nd, 2017, points out that high-throughput techniques like environmental DNA, acoustic sensors, or automated trail cameras can detect an incredible number of species at one time. However, this abundant data is still measured at discrete points and does not truly represent how biodiversity is changing across the globe.

The paper proposes to connect this abundant biodiversity data to satellite Earth observations using statistical models, to produce maps of biodiversity. This takes advantage of the rapid increase in the number and types of satellites now used for observing earth. The paper describes the three types of statistical models with the greatest potential for bridging between point biodiversity observations and satellite data. The authors also provide several examples of this approach, including work by Dr. Olson using satellite data to predict the diversity of fish species on the North Slope of Alaska.

This new approach to mapping biodiversity provides a way to monitor how biodiversity in remote areas or in places that lack resources for biodiversity monitoring. Relying on Earth observations from satellites to assess biodiversity will provide data for all parts of the Earth, they can better communicate trends in biodiversity to decision makers and the public as well. The authors conclude, “Resources for environmental management are always likely to be limited, but by doing more with our expensively gained field data, we can take action more efficiently and effectively.”