Researchers develop new technique to assess diversity of plant species from afar

March 23, 2012
The study site was in the Qinling Mountain region in the Shaanxi Province of China. Credit: Photo: Andrés Viña

By analyzing vegetation information collected by satellites over time instead of for just one day, scientists in the Michigan State University Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS) have developed a novel procedure to assess the composition of plant species in an area.

Researchers long have used multi-spectral images (which include radiation outside , such as infrared) and other remotely sensed data to create maps of vegetation around the globe. But in vegetation can limit the usefulness of these procedures, making them accurate for only the particular day or season when the data was collected.

"We analyzed the variability of the over time, in response to the temporal variability of the vegetation in an area," said Andrés Viña, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and lead author. "We calibrated our analysis with information on composition we had collected in the field at our study site, the Qinling Mountains region in the Shaanxi Province of China. So instead of looking at a snapshot, we looked at the area over time. Now we can say if two places exhibit similar temporal variability, then they are probably floristically similar.

"This procedure allows resource managers to assess the plant biodiversity of a region without having to do the painstaking work of collecting regionwide field data," he added.

The paper, "Relationship between floristic similarity and vegetated land surface phenology: Implications for the synoptic monitoring of species diversity at broad geographic regions," is published online in the June 2012 issue of Remote Sensing of Environment.

Viña explained the two types of diversities: alpha diversity is diversity of place and beta diversity is diversity from one place to another, the focus of this research.

"This is the diversity we were interested in, the beta diversity," Viña said. "If one area is similar to another in terms of the timing of natural events, such as leaf emergence, flowering, fruiting and leaf senescence along the seasons, can we say that the floristic composition will be similar? Our research has demonstrated that this is true."

Viña said the research could likely apply to other geographical areas with strong seasonality. He and his colleagues plan to test the technique to see if it works in places without strong seasonality and/or that have a very high number of species, such as tropical rain forests.

Explore further: Borneo - the most species-rich area in the world!

Related Stories

Borneo - the most species-rich area in the world!

May 12, 2005

Scientists map the world for nature conservation For years, experts have been calling for an improved database that would enable them to develop more effective global nature conservation strategies. Botanists at the University ...

New Keys to Keeping a Diverse Planet

September 25, 2007

Variation in plants and animals gives us a rich and robust assemblage of foods, medicines, industrial materials and recreation activities. But human activities are eliminating biological diversity at an unprecedented rate.

California's controlled fires boost biodiversity

November 23, 2010

In certain ecosystems, such as the mixed-conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada region of the western United States, fires are a natural and essential occurrence for maintaining forest health. However, for many decades, resource ...

What's so unique about the tropics? 'Less than we thought'

September 23, 2011

( -- The temperate forests of Canada or Northern Europe may have much more in common with the tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia or South America than commonly believed, according to a research group led by ...

Recommended for you

Gene editing: Research spurs debate over promise vs. ethics

October 9, 2015

The hottest tool in biology has scientists using words like revolutionary as they describe the long-term potential: wiping out certain mosquitoes that carry malaria, treating genetic diseases like sickle-cell, preventing ...

ZomBee Watch helps scientists track honeybee killer

October 9, 2015

While scientists have documented cases of tiny flies infesting honeybees, causing the bees to lurch and stagger around like zombies before they die, researchers don't know the scope of the problem.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.