Yale University and University of Buffalo researchers are keeping an eye on the sky when it comes to predicting ecosystem and biodiversity distributions. And it’s due to those nebulous drifters in the sky.
“Cloud cover can influence numerous important ecological processes, including reproduction, growth, survival, and behavior, yet our assessment of its importance at the appropriate spatial scales has remained remarkably limited,” wrote Adam Wilson and Walter Jetz in their study published in PLOS Biology. “If captured over a large extent yet at sufficiently fine spatial grain, cloud cover dynamics may provide key information for delineating a variety of habitat types and predicting species distributions.”
In their study, the researchers examined 15 years of data collected from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The researchers, for each day, collected two images of cloud coverage for every square kilometer of the planet.
“When we visualized the data, it was remarkable how clearly you could see many different biomes on Earth based on the frequency and timing of cloudy days over the past 15 years,” said Wilson, an assistant professor of geography at University of Buffalo, in a statement. “As you cross from one ecosystem into another, those transitions show up very clearly.”
An interactive map of their work is available at EarthEnv.
Using the new cloud coverage method, the researchers were able to pinpoint where specific species inhabited. Mainly, they found the location and size of the habitats belonging to the montane woodcreeper, an arboreal songbird from northwestern South America, and the king protea, a shrub found in South Africa’s Mediterranean shrublands.
According to Discovery News, the cloud method greatly improves on previous methods for mapping woodcreeper distribution, which was previously accomplished by looking at precipitation data. However, such data can be hard to come by in places without weather stations.
“We now have decades of satellite observations that we can pull together to characterize the global environment,” said Jetz, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale, in a statement. “It is exciting to now be able to tap into this large stack of detailed data to support global biodiversity and ecosystem monitoring and conservation.”
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