NASA Satellites Help Researchers Assess Essential Wildlife Species Abundance

NASA Satellites Help Researchers Assess Essential Wildlife Species Abundance

Both climate change and human involvement in the environment are causing the natural wildlife habitats to diminish. Besides the wildlife importance for the planet, the scientists know very little about the geographic distribution of wildlife species. However, thanks to NASA satellites researchers assess essential wildlife species abundance.

Using NASA satellites imagery and previous studies that surveyed wild animals carried out by governmental agencies, the scientists from the Utah State University and the University of Maryland, along with a team from the US Geological Survey, estimated the impact of plant productivity on populations of mountain lions and mule deer.

In other words, the researchers employed NASA satellites to estimate the abundance of the two essential wildlife species across several climatically different western states in the US.

The research tried to find how different climates influence the food chain, impacting the plants and then the herbivores, and, ultimately, the predators. Both herbivores and predators species in a region grow with the plant productivity.

NASA satellites to help scientists estimate the abundance of essential wildlife species across climatically different regions

“Climatically driven changes in primary production propagate through trophic levels. We expected to see that NASA satellites measurements of plant productivity would explain the abundance of deer. However, we were surprised to see how closely the maps of productivity also predicted the distribution of the mountain lion, their major predator,” said David Stoner, the study’s leading author.

Using NASA satellites to map the targeted region across several climatically different western states across the US, the scientists also revealed a significant shortcoming in the way the researchers were studying the wildlife distribution until now.

If only ten years ago the scientists used to analyze “landscapes through highly simplified maps representing a single point in time,” as Joseph Sexton, the co-author of the study, explained, now the method is useless in regions with rapid economic growth. Thus, the new technology involving satellites imagery and machine learning, researchers can explore vast areas in detail and high resolutions.

The use of NASA satellites, according to the scientists, can help them better understand environmental changes and climate change risks, but also estimate the abundance of essential wildlife species in remote areas.


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