Observing changing ecological diversity in the Anthropocene

Authors


Abstract

As the world enters the Anthropocene – a new geologic period, defined by humanity's massive impact on the planet – the Earth's rapidly changing environment is putting critical ecosystem services at risk. To understand and forecast how ecosystems will change over the coming decades, scientists will require an understanding of the sensitivity of species to environmental change. The current distribution of species and functional groups provides valuable information about the performance of various species in different environments. However, when the rate of environmental change is high, information inherent in the ranges of many species will disappear, since that information exists only under more or less steady-state conditions. The amount of information about species' relationships to climate declines as their distributions move farther from steady state. New remote-sensing technologies can map the chemical and structural traits of plant canopies and will allow for the inference of traits and, in many cases, species' ranges. Current satellite remote-sensing data can only produce relatively simple classifications, but new techniques will produce data with dramatically higher biological information content.

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