Satellite study identifies water bodies important for biodiversity conservation

January 28, 2015 by Deborah Smith, University of New South Wales
Satellite study identifies water bodies important for biodiversity conservation
The Swan River in Western Australia. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Using satellite images to study changing patterns of surface water is a powerful tool for identifying conservationally important "stepping stone" water bodies that could help aquatic species survive in a drying climate, a UNSW-led study shows.

The approach has been applied to the Swan Coastal Plain near Perth in Western Australia, which has more than 1500 water bodies and is one of 25 designated biodiversity hotspots on the globe.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Scientists led by UNSW's Dr Mirela Tulbure analysed 13 years of Landsat images of the region, taken from 1999 to 2011, to gain a picture of the changing interconnectivity of the many water bodies on the plain over time.

"Aquatic systems are some of the most threatened ecosystems in the world, because they are affected by climate change and human factors such as urban expansion and use of ," says Dr Tulbure.

"These factors not only increase stress on the habitat of many water species, they reduce the opportunities for water-dependent organisms to disperse to neighbouring water bodies to breed and maintain resilient populations."

The Swan Coastal Plain was chosen as a study site because it has lost more than 70 per cent of its surface water bodies since European settlement, and the remaining ones are strongly affected by rapid urban development and .

"Our results showed a highly variable pattern of connectivity between water bodies that changed with the seasons. Overall, there was a decline in connectivity during the 13-year period, with potentially negative consequences for the species that have a limited capacity to move between water bodies," says Dr Tulbure.

"But we also identified stepping stone water bodies that are vital for connecting distant habitats because of their position in the landscape. This approach is a cost-effective way to prioritise which water bodies require better management and conservation to assist creatures with different travel capabilities, such as turtles and water birds."

The researchers recommend that the stepping stones on the Swan Coastal Plain, which are near the Peel-Harvey Estuary and in some national parks, be targeted for conservation.

The team is now applying their approach to the Murray-Darling Basin, and Dr Tulbure says it could be applied to other habitat networks as well.

Explore further: Wetlands not 'wetting' enough for invertebrates

More information: "Spatiotemporal dynamics of surface water networks across a global biodiversity hotspot—implications for conservation." Mirela G Tulbure et al 2014 Environ. Res. Lett. 9 114012 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/9/11/114012

Related Stories

Minimising water use, maintaining productivity

January 7, 2014

As the climate warms up, more and more farmers in Switzerland need to irrigate their crops. This is problematic because many rivers carry less water. If the increase in water use is limited, agricultural production will not ...

Study ties groundwater to human evolution

September 10, 2014

Our ancient ancestors' ability to move around and find new sources of groundwater during extremely dry periods in Africa millions of years ago may have been key to their survival and the evolution of the human species, a ...

Recommended for you

A damming trend

December 14, 2018

Hundreds of dams are being proposed for Mekong River basin in Southeast Asia. The negative social and environmental consequences—affecting everything from food security to the environment—greatly outweigh the positive ...

Data from Kilauea suggests the eruption was unprecedented

December 14, 2018

A very large team of researchers from multiple institutions in the U.S. has concluded that the Kilauea volcanic eruption that occurred over this past summer represented an unprecedented volcanic event. In their paper published ...

The long dry: global water supplies are shrinking

December 13, 2018

A global study has found a paradox: our water supplies are shrinking at the same time as climate change is generating more intense rain. And the culprit is the drying of soils, say researchers, pointing to a world where drought-like ...

Death near the shoreline, not life on land

December 13, 2018

Our understanding of when the very first animals started living on land is helped by identifying trace fossils—the tracks and trails left by ancient animals—in sedimentary rocks that were deposited on the continents.


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.