NERC National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).
Terrestrial ecosystems from space: a review of earth observation products for macroecology applications
Article first published online: 27 OCT 2011
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Global Ecology and Biogeography
Volume 21, Issue 6, pages 603–624, June 2012
How to Cite
Pfeifer, M., Disney, M., Quaife, T. and Marchant, R. (2012), Terrestrial ecosystems from space: a review of earth observation products for macroecology applications. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 21: 603–624. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2011.00712.x
- Issue published online: 10 MAY 2012
- Article first published online: 27 OCT 2011
- earth observation;
- fire patterns;
- fire rhythms;
- global patterns;
- land cover;
- remote sensing
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.
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.