Satellites map the biodiversity of coral reefs globally

Satellites map the biodiversity of coral reefs globally

Researchers used Earth-orbiting satellites to map coral reef biodiversity on a global scale to show that areas with high habitat diversity also have high species diversity.

This new satellite mapping technology could help guide future efforts to identify and protect highly biodiverse coral reefs, according to the researchers who conducted the study.

“As remote sensing technology becomes more advanced and we continue to use satellite images to map ecological habitats, we must understand the biological and ecological meaning of these products,” says Sam Burkes, professor and chair of the Department of Marine Earth Sciences at UCLA. Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Sciences and lead author of the study.

“We have shown that these maps can be used as a proxy for biodiversity and can therefore be used to guide ecosystem protection and restoration.”

The traditional approach of conducting diver surveys to measure coral reef biodiversity is time consuming and expensive. Therefore, the research team set out to find a new method that uses remote sensing to produce maps of habitats on a global scale.

To conduct the study, they extracted divers-measured diversity of reef fish and coral species in the SCUBA Diver Survey Global Dataset from the Khalid Bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (KSLOF) Global Coral Reef Expedition across the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. . KSLOF maps cover nearly a quarter of Earth’s shallow-water tropical coral reefs. Purkis serves as the foundation’s chief scientist.

Scientists then used these maps to scrutinize the complexity of seafloor habitat patterns, which they showed were linked to the diversity of the species of organisms that inhabited them. This relationship persists across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and can therefore be used, scientists recommend, as a proxy for coral reef biodiversity.

“We have shown how the biodiversity of these ecosystems can instead be retrieved from satellite maps of the seafloor,” says Anna Bakker, a doctoral student in the Department of Marine Geosciences at Rosenstiel School and lead author of the study. “This discovery provides an opportunity to assess coral reef biodiversity, on a global scale, from orbit.”

The results of this study could help in marine spatial planning and designate marine protected areas to protect coral reefs with high biodiversity, according to the researchers.

The study appears in the journal Remote sensing of the environment. Authors of the additional study are from the University of Miami, the Khalid Bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, and the Coral Reef Alliance.

Support for the research came from the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, the Lyda Hill Charitable Foundations, and a NASA ROSES Biodiversity Award.

Source: University of Miami

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