Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Breeding Bird Surveys + satellite images

At an American Geophysical Union meeting today, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said comparing satellite images with results from an annual survey of breeding birds might provide "a quick, easy way to identify areas with high biodiversity."

Patrick Culbert, a Ph.D. student in the university's department of forestry and wildlife ecology, used Landsat images of parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. The images covered more than 580 Bird Breeding Survey routes, where citizen scientists cover approximately 25 miles and record singing or visible birds during breeding season (usually June).

From the university's press release:
Culbert compared the number of bird species along the routes with measures of "habitat complexity," which is how wildlife ecologists describe the range of niches within a particular location. A forest with many levels of vegetation or an area with a mixture of wetlands and forest are two examples of complex habitat that, in repeated studies, tend to support higher biodiversity.

To explore the same relationship on a larger scale, Culbert says he focused on variation among the pixels in satellite images. "Some areas have a richer texture in the pattern of pixels than others. In an agricultural field, all the pixels are very similar, but in an old growth forest, we see lots of gaps, with a much more varied texture."
Associate professor Volker Radeloff, who is Culbert's adviser, said the goal is a "plug-and-play" system that uses remote sensing for a more realistic approach to land-use decisions. He said, "The traditional data-gathering approach of wildlife ecology is too slow to advise local governments about land use.

"If somebody says, 'We want to develop this land,' and you ask for five years to do a survey to get the answers, you will no longer be asked. For land managers, this could be a huge step forward."

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