Earth Observation Science Requirements for Characterizing and Monitoring Biodiversity

Summary: This contribution outlines how GEOSS (Global Earth Observing System of Systems) can aid current biodiversity monitoring systems by creating links with other Earth Observation networks to help fill in gaps in our present knowledge.

by Douglas Muchoney, Group on Earth Observations (GEO), Geneva, Switzerland

The Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as “the
variability among living organisms from all sources including, among other things, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems” (CBD, 1992). The consequences of changes
to and loss of biodiversity are manifold but particularly acute for alteration of ecosystem services (Chapin et al., 2000). While much is known of the status of certain species and ecosystems, there are still huge gaps in our knowledge

Earth observations, comprising of satellite, aerial, and in situ systems, are increasingly recognized as critical observations for monitoring the Earth system and systems (Muchoney, 2008). The Group on Earth Observations, GEO, was established to implement the Global Earth Observing Systems of Systems, GEOSS,
which includes in its mandate the protection of ecosystems — Improving the management and protection of terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems, and understanding, monitoring, and conserving biodiversity.

In the context of biodiversity, GEOSS will link the many stand-alone biodiversity monitoring systems and connect them to other Earth observation networks that generate relevant data, such as climate and pollution data. It will also help to fill in gaps in taxonomic and biological information, generate updated assessments of global biodiversity trends, track the spread and retreat of invasive alien species, and monitor how biodiversity responds to climate change (GEO, 2005).

GEOSS is envisioned to unify many disparate biodiversity and ecosystem observing systems and create a platform to integrate biodiversity and ecological data with other geo-spatial data. This will support monitoring of the condition and extent of ecosystems, and the distribution and status of species. The GEOSS Architecture Components specify automated and manual components of remote-sensing and in situ systems, the integration of national, regional and global data centres, as well as discipline data centres, access to data and to metadata about archived and on-line holdings, and planned data acquisitions.

The European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS) is harmonizing international initiatives including GEOSS and the GEO Biodiversity Observation Network, GEO BON. BioStrat is promoting science and policy, and offers an important mechanism for harmonizing research requirements for Earth
observations. Key research requirements include better and sustained observation systems, nested global sampling, and modelling, computational and analytical tools.


Chapin, F. S., E. S. Zavalet, V. T. Evine, R. L. Naylor, P. M. Vitouse, H. L.
Reynold, D. U. Hoope, S. Lavore, O. E. SalaI, S. E. Hobbie, M. C. Mack, and S.
Díaz. 2000. Consequences of changing diversity. Nature 405: 234-242.

Convention on Biological Diversity. 2002. Text of the Convention, Article 2.
Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal.

Group on Earth Observations, 2005, GEOSS 10-Year Implementation Plan Reference
Document, ESA Publications Division, The Netherlands.

Muchoney, D.M. 2008. Earth observations for terrestrial biodiversity and
Remote Sensing of Environment 12 (5): 1909-191.

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