Airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy to map forest trait diversity and guide conservation

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Science  27 Jan 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6323, pp. 385-389
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaj1987

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Airborne spectroscopy for forest traits

The development of conservation priorities in the tropics is often hampered by the sparseness of ground data on biological diversity and the relative crudeness of larger-scale remote sensing data. Asner et al. developed airborne instrumentation to make large-scale maps of forest functional diversity across 72 million hectares of the Peruvian Andes and Amazon basin (see the Perspective by Kapos). They generated a suite of forest canopy functional trait maps from laser-guided imaging spectroscopy and used them to define distinct forest functional classes. These were then compared with government deforestation and land allocation data, which enabled an analysis of conservation threats and opportunities across the region.

Science, this issue p. 385; see also p. 347


Functional biogeography may bridge a gap between field-based biodiversity information and satellite-based Earth system studies, thereby supporting conservation plans to protect more species and their contributions to ecosystem functioning. We used airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy with environmental modeling to derive large-scale, multivariate forest canopy functional trait maps of the Peruvian Andes-to-Amazon biodiversity hotspot. Seven mapped canopy traits revealed functional variation in a geospatial pattern explained by geology, topography, hydrology, and climate. Clustering of canopy traits yielded a map of forest beta functional diversity for land-use analysis. Up to 53% of each mapped, functionally distinct forest presents an opportunity for new conservation action. Mapping functional diversity advances our understanding of the biosphere to conserve more biodiversity in the face of land use and climate change.

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