GEO BON Secretariat

September 16, 2015

Conservation scientists should collaborate more with space agencies, such as NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), on identifying measures to help track biodiversity declines around the world. That call is made by Prof. Andrew K. Skidmore of the ITC Faculty of the University of Twente and colleagues around the world, including scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). In a comment published today in the world-renowned scientific journal Nature, the scientists state more has to be done to make the use of satellite data valuable to fight global biodiversity loss.

Track biodiversity

In a move that previously proved successful in helping to monitor climate change on a global scale, scientists believe that space technology could help track biodiversity across the planet. Satellite images can quickly reveal where to reverse the loss of biological diversity. Vegetation productivity or leaf cover can, for example, be measured across continents from space while providing information about biodiversity level on the ground.

Publicly-funded space agencies, including ESA and NASA, already collect and regularly provide open-access to satellite data. However, a lack of agreement between conservation biologists and space agencies on a definitive set of variables to track, as well as how to translate such information into useful data for conservation, has meant that so far this game-changing resource has remained untapped.

“Satellite imagery from major space agencies is becoming more freely available, and images are of much higher resolution than 10 years ago”, says Dr. Andrew Skidmore. “Our ambition to monitor biodiversity from space is now being matched by actual technical capacity. As conservation and remote sensing communities join forces, biodiversity can be monitored on a global scale. High tech satellites can assist in conserving biological diversity by tracking the impact of environmental policies worldwide.”


Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, co-author of the comment and researcher at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said: “With global wildlife populations halved in just 40 years, there is a real urgency to identify variables that both capture key aspects of biodiversity change and can be monitored consistently and globally. Satellites can help deliver such information, and in 10 years’ time, global biodiversity monitoring from space could be a reality, but only if ecologists and Space Agencies agreed on a priority list of satellite-based data that is essential for tracking changes in biodiversity.”

“So far biodiversity monitoring has been mostly species-based, and this means that some of the changes happening on a global-scale may be missed. Being able to look at the planet as a whole could literally provide a new perspective on how we conserve biological diversity.”

About the authors

Prof. dr. Andrew K. Skidmore is Professor in Spatial Environmental Resource Dynamics at the ITC Faculty of the University of Twente. His research focuses mainly on vegetation mapping and monitoring. Dr. Nathalie Pettorelli is a Research Fellow in Conservation Biology at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Co-authors of the article include Dr Tiejun Wang, Assistant Professor at the ITC Faculty of the University of Twente.

Full details

Skidmore, A. K., Pettorelli, N., Coops, N. C., Geller, G. N., Hansen, M., Lucas, R., Mücher, C.A., O’Connor, B., Paganini, M., Pereira, H.M., Schaepman, M.E., Turner, W., Wang, T., Wegmann, M., (2015) Environmental science: Agree on biodiversity metrics to track from space. Nature 523: 403–405 doi:10.1038/523403a

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