Across all ecosystems, global biological diversity is under enormous and increasing threat due to climate change. Responding to this problem requires strategies that integrate elements of governance, economics, human welfare and other societal factors. It also requires the use of geographically-explicit approaches to generate safe havens for biodiversity, both in the long-term and as immediate barriers to the ongoing extinction crisis.
Prioritization of new regions for protection is often undertaken with incomplete and/or outdated information on the geography of biodiversity. In response, Greg Asner and colleagues have created and utilized a novel capability to map biodiversity on a global scale using their technique called airborne laser-guided imaging spectroscopy (LGIS) derived from their Global Airborne Observatory (GAO) platform. Their first map covered the Peruvian Andes-Amazon region, a biodiversity hotspot, providing a spatially comprehensive opportunity to assess the efficacy of current forest protections. Today, the GAO's mapping of biodiversity-rich locales throughout the world continues, with their most recent efforts focusing on mapping the entire Hawaiian Archipelago.
Now in its third generation, the GAO is a complete airborne laboratory based on a highly modified Dornier 228-202 aircraft, and it carries what is widely regarded as the most advanced mapping technology operating in the civil sector today. The GAO airborne laboratory is equipped with the Airborne Taxonomic Mapping System, or AToMS, which integrates unique visible to shortwave Infrared imaging spectrometers with laser scanning and high-resolution camera sensors capable of collecting 3-dimensional biodiversity data at fine spatial resolution, including all terrestrial ecosystems and the human-built environment. AToMS can also image coral reefs and other aquatic habitats with spectral detail.
Dr. Asner and his team will generate forest biodiversity maps of the Ecuadorian Andes-Amazon region, which will be combined and integrated with the existing similar map for Peru. A similar set of maps will be generated for the Malaysian Bornean state of Sabah and the California Sierra Nevada mountains. These new biodiversity maps will be integrated into planned conservation activities among the partnering organizations of the Nature Needs Half initiative.