Advisor: Lisa Curran
Mapping biological diversity is a major goal in the global conservation community. This task is daunting because genetic, species, and community distributions lead to complex spatial patterns of biodiversity. Fine-scale biodiversity maps are useful because these data give land managers and scientists an understanding of species distributions on a scale commensurate with conservation activities. Furthermore, such maps allow managers to track changes in the landscape over time, giving feedback about how management decisions affect local ecosystems.
Few studies have provided diversity data at high spatial resolution from remote sensing. This project, based at Dr. Greg Asner's lab at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, used airborne imaging spectroscopy to map woody vascular plant species richness in lowland tropical forest ecosystems in Hawai'i. Hyperspectral data acquired by the NASA Airborne Visible and Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS) were analyzed at forest sites spanning a range of plant species diversity on the Big Island of Hawai'i. Results showed that spatial variation in the shape of the AVIRIS spectra was well correlated with species richness across field sites. We developed an algorithm that predicted species richness through a combination of four biochemically-distinct wavelength observations, and used this relationship to map species richness in lowland forest reserves throughout the study region.