Global terrestrial ecosystem observations: why, where, what and how?

Robert H. G. Jongman, Andrew Skidmore, C. A. (Sander) Mücher, Robert G. H. Bunce, Marc J. Metzger

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This chapter covers the questions of ecosystem definition and the organisation of a monitoring system. It treats where and how ecosystems should be measured and the integration between in situ and RS observations. Ecosystems are characterised by composition, function and structure. The ecosystem level is an essential link in biodiversity surveillance and monitoring between species and populations on the one hand and land use and landscapes on the other. Ecosystem monitoring requires a clear conceptual model that incorporates key factors influencing ecosystem dynamics to base the variables on that have to be monitored as well as data collection methods and statistics. Choices have to be made on the scale at which monitoring should be carried out and eco-regionalisation or ecological stratification are approaches for identification of the units to be sampled. This can be done on expert judgement but nowadays also on stratifications derived from multivariate statistical clustering. Data should also be included from individual research sites over the entire world and from organically grown networks covering many countries. An important added value in the available monitoring technologies is the integration of in situ and RS observations, as various RS technologies are coming into reach of ecosystem research. For global applications this development is essential. We can employ an array of instruments to monitor ecosystem characteristics, from fixed sensors and in situ measurements to drones, planes and satellite sensors. They allow to measure biogeochemical components that determine much of the chemistry of the environment and the geochemical regulation of ecosystems. Important global databases on sensor data are being developed and frequent high resolution RS scenes are becoming available. RS observations can complement field observations as they deliver a synoptic view and the opportunity to provide consistent information in time and space especially for widely distributed habitats. RS has a high potential for developing distribution maps, change detection and habitat quality and composition change at various scales. Hyperspectral sensors have greatly enhanced the possibilities of distinguishing related habitat types at very fine scales. The end-users can use such maps for estimating range and area of habitats, but they could also serve to define and update the sampling frame (the statistical 'population') of habitats for which field sample surveys are in place. Present technologies and data availability allow us to measure fragmentation through several metrics that can be calculated from RS data. In situ data have been collected in several countries over a longer term and these are fit for statistical analysis, producing statistics on species composition change, habitat richness and habitat structure. It is now possible to relate protocols for RS and in situ observations based on plant life forms, translate them and provide direct links between in situ and RS data.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe GEO handbook on biodiversity observation networks
EditorsM. Walters, R.J. Scholes
Place of PublicationCham
ISBN (Print)9783319272887, 9783319272863
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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