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UZH: “Biodiversity from above”

The University of Zurich (UZH) has published an article about remote sensing expert Michael Schaepman’s plans to use a new aerial sensing method to investigate the complex interplay between ecosystems, species and genes. While biodiversity is on the rise in some parts of the world, such as on the balconies and in the gardens of Europe where nonnative species of plants are being grown in pots, biodiversity in rainforests is rapidly declining as the rainforests are being cleared by humans.

Schaepman, professor of remote sensing at the UZH Department of Geography, wants to scientifically approximate the global impact of humans on biodiversity and is leading the Remotely Sensing Ecological Genomics project at UZH to do so. He is employing a biodiversity observatory to monitor plant diversity on the Lägern, a wooded area in the canton of Zurich. The project will measure, from the ground and from the air, how the area responds to global changes.

“We have a massive influence on global biodiversity, and thus on the way it impacts the environment,” says Schaepman.

To overcome the major challenge of counting and locating the different living organisms, Schaepman and his team are investigating the functional diversity of plants, which describes the diversity of interrelationships between ecosystems, species and genes. The scientists deploy highly specialized equipment they have developed in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and mounted in aircraft. The equipment includes a spectrometer to measure from the air the light from the sun that hits plants and is reflected. On the basis of how the plants reflect different wavelengths of light, the researchers can determine the physiological characteristics of the leaves and the nitrogen, chlorophyll and water content. This can give an indication, for example, of the activity and health of a tree.

The Remotely Sensing Ecological Genomics project is being funded by NOMIS, the Global Change and Biodiversity University Research Priority Program (URPP Global Change and Biodiversity) and the UZH Foundation.


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