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Keywords:

  • Biogeography;
  • earth observation;
  • fire patterns;
  • fire rhythms;
  • global patterns;
  • LAI;
  • land cover;
  • productivity;
  • remote sensing

ABSTRACT

Aim  Earth observation (EO) products are a valuable alternative to spectral vegetation indices. We discuss the availability of EO products for analysing patterns in macroecology, particularly related to vegetation, on a range of spatial and temporal scales.

Location  Global.

Methods  We discuss four groups of EO products: land cover/cover change, vegetation structure and ecosystem productivity, fire detection, and digital elevation models. We address important practical issues arising from their use, such as assumptions underlying product generation, product accuracy and product transferability between spatial scales. We investigate the potential of EO products for analysing terrestrial ecosystems.

Results  Land cover, productivity and fire products are generated from long-term data using standardized algorithms to improve reliability in detecting change of land surfaces. Their global coverage renders them useful for macroecology. Their spatial resolution (e.g. GLOBCOVER vegetation, 300 m; MODIS vegetation and fire, ≥ 500 m; ASTER digital elevation, 30 m) can be a limiting factor. Canopy structure and productivity products are based on physical approaches and thus are independent of biome-specific calibrations. Active fire locations are provided in near-real time, while burnt area products show actual area burnt by fire. EO products can be assimilated into ecosystem models, and their validation information can be employed to calculate uncertainties during subsequent modelling.

Main conclusions  Owing to their global coverage and long-term continuity, EO end products can significantly advance the field of macroecology. EO products allow analyses of spatial biodiversity, seasonal dynamics of biomass and productivity, and consequences of disturbances on regional to global scales. Remaining drawbacks include inter-operability between products from different sensors and accuracy issues due to differences between assumptions and models underlying the generation of different EO products. Our review explains the nature of EO products and how they relate to particular ecological variables across scales to encourage their wider use in ecological applications.