Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Lasers help researchers predict birds' preferred habitat

02.06.2010
Every spring, migratory birds like the Black-throated Blue Warbler journey from tropical Caribbean or South American refuges to North American forests. But which forest patch will they call home this year? And, how can researchers predict where they choose to nest?

Ecologists studying biodiversity and conservationists preserving habitats have asked these questions for more than 50 years, but with limited and imprecise means to answer them. Now a team of NASA-funded researchers has completed an experiment to remotely sense and predict where certain birds are most likely to live and breed.

In the late 1950s, Princeton University ecologist Robert MacArthur proposed that bird species choose their habitat according to the structure of a forest – that is, the tree canopy height, branching structure, leaf spread and abundance, and the presence of low-lying shrubs.

To determine the habitat where particular species bred, ornithologists trekked deep into forests and used everything from binoculars to suspended vines to observe leaves and twigs and extrapolate the make-up of forest areas. They could spend thousands of painstaking hours analyzing plots as small as 100 square feet. As recently as May 2010, an Oregon State University doctoral student dislocated her shoulder while using a rudimentary pole to demonstrate how scientists once measured tree branches from the ground -- and to show how and why the science of studying birds has changed.

"Most of the time, the data weren't very good, and didn't cover broad areas of land," said landscape ecologist Matt Betts, an assistant professor at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

A research team led by Scott Goetz of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Mass., has helped bring habitat sensing into the 21st century. The researchers combined satellite data, a ground-based bird census, light detection and ranging (lidar), and a new modeling technique to correctly predict the presence of songbirds in a forest. Their results were published this week in the journal Ecology.

"The study of bird habitats has entered a new era," said Goetz. "Until recently, predicting bird habitat was limited. We've known for many years that the composition of trees and shrubs determines habitat quality, which in turn influences a species' presence and population density. But this study uses remote sensing to accurately predict which habitats birds prefer to use year after year, over many square miles of complex terrain."

According to Goetz, NASA's Laser Vegetation Imaging Sensor (LVIS, pronounced Elvis), was key to the team's success. The instrument sends pulses of laser light down from an airplane toward the forest canopy and records the points at which signals bounce back from leaves, branches, and land surfaces. Goetz and colleagues analyzed the data to confirm things like canopy height – the difference between the top of a tree and the ground – and the top-to-bottom density of tree canopies.

"We're doing the same thing our predecessors did, but in much more detail and over a much broader area," said Betts. "We have new metrics now that just weren't possible before."

When combined with data from the NASA-built Landsat satellite – which can indicate seasonal changes in the amount of vegetation -- the LVIS data indicated not only the height of the trees but whether they have mostly high branches or lots of canopy layers beneath tree tops.

For the study published this month, the team made field observations of the Black-throated Blue Warbler, a small songbird that prefers lower-lying vegetation. Using four years of LVIS data, the researchers ranked various forest habitats as good, fair, or poor based on canopy structure. Their "good" rankings for the warbler matched actual ground data -- showing the actual presence of the species in each habitat -- 90 percent of the time.

"For predicting species across broad landscapes over time, this lidar technology is incredibly valuable," said Betts, a co-author of Goetz's study. "We can now conduct higher-quality estimates of the relative importance of climate versus habitat structure in affecting animal populations.". And this technique should transfer to predictions of other animals whose habitats are associated with canopy structure, like flying squirrels or martens. If we can track downed logs on the forest floor, we could even model habitats for salamanders."

Sarah DeWitt | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/laser-birds.html

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement

26.06.2017 | Life Sciences

Smooth propagation of spin waves using gold

26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Switchable DNA mini-machines store information

26.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>