Anthropogenic modification of forests means only 40% of remaining forests have high ecosystem integrity
Many global environmental agendas, including halting biodiversity loss, reversing land degradation, and limiting climate change, depend upon retaining forests with high ecological integrity, yet the scale and degree of forest modification remain poorly quantified and mapped. By integrating data on observed and inferred human pressures and an index of lost connectivity, we generate a globally consistent, continuous index of forest condition as determined by the degree of anthropogenic modification. Globally, only 17.4 million km2 of forest (40.5%) has high landscape-level integrity (mostly found in Canada, Russia, the Amazon, Central Africa, and New Guinea) and only 27% of this area is found in nationally designated protected areas. Of the forest inside protected areas, only 56% has high landscape-level integrity. Ambitious policies that prioritize the retention of forest integrity, especially in the most intact areas, are now urgently needed alongside current efforts aimed at halting deforestation and restoring the integrity of forests globally.
A climate adaptation strategy for Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar site: Steppingstone to climate proofing the East Asian-Australasian Flyway
The ecological functionality of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is threatened by the loss of wetlands which provide staging and wintering sites for migrating waterbirds. The disappearance of wetland ecosystems due to coastal development prevents birds from completing their migrations, resulting in population declines, and even an eventual collapse of the migration phenomenon. Coastal wetlands are also under threat from global climate change and its consequences, notably sea level rise (SLR), extreme storm events, and accompanying wave and tidal surges. The impacts of SLR are compounded by coastal subsidence and decreasing sedimentation, which can result from coastal development. Thus, important wetlands along the flyway should be assessed for the impacts of climate change and coastal subsidence to plan and implement proactive climate adaptation strategies that include habitat migration and possibility of coastal squeeze. We modelled the impacts of climate change and decreasing sedimentation rates on important bird habitats in the Mai Po Inner Deep Bay Ramsar site to support a climate adaptation strategy that will continue to host migratory birds.
Spatial priorities for conserving the most intact biodiverse forests within Central Africa
The forests of Central Africa contain some of Earth's few remaining intact forests. These forests are increasingly threatened by infrastructure development, agriculture, and unsustainable extraction of natural resources (e.g. minerals, bushmeat, and timber), all of which is leading to deforestation and forest degradation, particularly defaunation, and hence causing declines in biodiversity and a significant increase in carbon emissions. Given the pervasive nature of these threats, the global importance of Central African forests for biodiversity conservation, and the limited resources for conservation and sustainable management, there is a need to identify where the most important areas are to orientate conservation efforts. We developed a novel approach for identifying spatial priorities where conservation efforts can maximize biodiversity benefits within Central Africa's most intact forest areas. We found that the Democratic Republic of Congo has the largest amount of priority areas in the region, containing more than half, followed by Gabon, the Republic of Congo and Cameroon. We compared our approach to one that solely prioritizes forest intactness and one that aims to achieve only biodiversity representation objectives. We found that when priorities are only based on forest intactness (without considering biodiversity representation), there are significantly fewer biodiversity benefits and vice versa. We therefore recommend multi-objective planning that includes biodiversity representation and forest intactness to ensure that both objectives are maximized. These results can inform various types of conservation strategies needed within the region, including land-use planning, jurisdictional REDD + initiatives, and performance related carbon payments, protected area expansion, community forest management, and forest concession plans. View the interactive map that accompanies this effort.
Technologies for Observing and Monitoring Plastics in the Oceans
Massive and rapidly increasing use of plastics in modern society with short average use times and poor reuse and recycling options has resulted in a global threat with potentially devastating impacts on human and non-human life. Knowledge on the impacts of plastics in all forms on the planetary life-support system is rapidly accumulating and it underlines the scale of the risk humanity is taking. While quantitative information on production and use of plastics is to a large extent available, the fate of plastics discarded or leaked into the environment is highly uncertain. In particular, knowledge of how much plastic at different scales down to micro and nano levels reaches the ocean and the trajectories of the plastic in the ocean remain poorly known. Based on the mounting evidence, the United Nations have recognized the threat and are coordinating the many efforts to limit the amount of plastic that enters the environment uncontrolled. However, the Earth observation community so far has not managed to establish a global tracking and information system that would provide quantitative information on where and how plastics move in the ocean and allow the identification of the points where marine plastic pollution could be reduced most effectively. There are a number of independent projects focused on better monitoring plastics in the environment, including the ocean. In particular, projects in the EU, USA, and Japan have participated in working groups initiated by UN Environment. These projects are focusing on the monitoring of marine litter and plastics, management of information and knowledge, risks assessments, exploitation of opportunities and synergies, and, as far as possible, estimation of relevant costs and benefits. Measurements proposed include satellite and airborne remote sensing, surface and underwater in situ measurements, and crowd-sourcing observations. The need for extensive data processing and the use of deep learning techniques is acknowledged. The sensors considered range from multi- and hyper- spectral sensing or other optical sensing to radar imaging aiming at a wide geo-spatial coverage. There is a need to develop global coordination mechanisms to ensure that societal knowledge needs are met and decisions on reducing plastic pollution in the ocean are informed by this knowledge. OES in collaboration with the Blue Planet Initiative of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and the UN environment, is leading an initiative aiming at this coordination. for a copy of the article please contact us.
Forest Cover and Vegetation Degradation Detection in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area Using BFAST Monitor
Remote Sensing, 2018 Forest cover and vegetation degradation was monitored across the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA) in southern Africa and the performance of three different methods in detecting degradation was assessed using reference data. Breaks for Additive Season and Trend (BFAST) Monitor was used to identify potential forest cover and vegetation degradation using Landsat Normalized Difference Moisture Index (NDMI) time series data. Parametric probability-based magnitude thresholds, non-parametric random forest in conjunction with Soil-Adjusted Vegetation Index (SAVI) time series, and the combination of both methods were evaluated for their suitability to detect degradation for six land cover classes ranging from closed canopy forest to open grassland. The performance of degradation detection was largely dependent on tree cover and vegetation density. Satisfactory accuracies were obtained for closed woodland (user’s accuracy 87%, producer’s accuracy 71%) and closed forest (user’s accuracy 92%, producer’s accuracy 90%), with lower accuracies for open canopies. The performance of the three methods was more similar for closed canopies and differed for land cover classes with open canopies. Highest user’s accuracy was achieved when methods were combined, and the best performance for producer’s accuracy was obtained when random forest was used.
Using fragmentation to assess degradation of forest edges in Democratic Republic of Congo
Carbon Balance and Management, 2016 Recent studies have shown that fragmentation is an increasing threat to global forests, which has major impacts on biodiversity and the important ecosystem services provided by forested landscapes. Several tools have been developed to evaluate global patterns of fragmentation, which have potential applications for REDD+. We study how canopy height and above ground biomass (AGB) change across several categories of forest edges determined by fragmentation analysis. We use Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as an example.
Measuring mangrove carbon loss and gain in deltas
Environmental Research Letters, 2018 Demand for mangrove forests resources has led to the steady decline in mangrove area over the past century. Land conversions in the form of agriculture, aquaculture and urbanization account for the much of the deforestation in mangrove wetlands. However, natural processes at the transition zone between the land and ocean also have the ability to rapidly change mangrove extent. In this study, we applied a robust field-based carbon inventory and new structural and temporal remote sensing techniques to quantify the magnitude and change of mangrove carbon stocks in major deltas across Africa and Asia. From 2000 to 2016, approximately 1.6% (12,270 ha) of the total mangrove area within these deltas disappeared, primarily through erosion and conversion to agriculture. However, the rapid expansion of mangroves during this time period resulted in new forests in some regions that were taller and more carbon dense than the deforested areas. Because of the rapid vertical growth rates and horizontal expansion, new mangrove forests were able to offset the total carbon losses of 5,332,843 Mg C by 44%. Each hectare of new mangrove forest accounted for ~84% to ~160% of the aboveground carbon for each hectare of mangrove forest lost, regardless of the net change in mangrove area. Our study highlights the significance of the natural dynamics of erosion and sedimentation on carbon loss and sequestration potential for mangroves over time. Areas of naturally regenerating mangroves will have a much larger carbon sequestration potential if the rate of mangrove deforestation taller forests are curbed.
Mapping and assessing the impact of small‐scale ephemeral water sources on wildlife in an African seasonal savannah
In many savannah regions of Africa, pronounced seasonal variability in rainfall results in wildlife being restricted to floodplains and other habitats adjacent to permanent surface water in the dry season. During the wet season, rainfall fills small‐scale, ephemeral water sources that allow wildlife to exploit forage and other resources far from permanent surface water. These water sources remain difficult to quantify, however, due to their small and ephemeral nature, and as a result are rarely included in quantitative studies of wildlife distribution, abundance, and movement. Our goal was to map ephemeral water in Bwabwata National Park in Namibia using two different approaches and to relate measures of ephemeral water to the abundance, distribution, and movement of two large wildlife species. We used high‐resolution Google Earth and Esri World imagery to visually identify waterholes. Additionally, we used Sentinel‐2 satellite imagery to map ephemeral water across the study area using the Normalized Difference Water Index. With these mapped waterhole layers and data from GPS‐collared individuals of African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and African buffalo (Syncerus caffer), we evaluated the importance of ephemeral water in conditioning abundance and movement of these two species. The two approaches to mapping ephemeral water resulted in the visual identification of nearly 10,000 waterholes, and a predicted ephemeral water layer of ~76% accuracy. The inclusion of ephemeral water into models of abundance and movement resulted in improved goodness of fit relative to those without water, and water impacts on abundance and movement were among the strongest of all variables considered. The potential importance of ephemeral water in conditioning the movements and distributions of large herbivores in African savannahs has been difficult to quantify relative to vegetation drivers. Our results suggest research into ephemeral water impacts deserves more attention.
Conservation Technology Series: Satellite Remote Sensing
Online, 2018 Issue 4 of the Conservation Technology Series in collaboration with WWF-UK looks at the opportunities, challenges and state-of-the-art of satellite remote sensing for conservation applications.
KAZA Story Map
to accompany our panel discussion at the latest GFOI (Global Forest Observations Initiative) we launched a story map to feature our collaboration with FAO to use Sepal to monitor natural habitat change in KAZA.
The Mangroves of Madagascar
The Mangroves of Madagascar - cover status and trends. National scale mangrove analysis for Madagascar using Landsat time series, Google Earth Engine. Maps are visible online here. Accurate and consistent mangrove extent at the national scale over time is a necessity for proper conservation planning for mangroves, including conservation and restoration. Many analyses conducted in Madagascar have accurately assessed mangroves, but have not been repeated over time. In addition, changing datasets and technologies result in differing approaches which, when applied cannot be accurately combined or compared. For this reason, WWF has undertaken the first consistent mangrove assessment over a 30 year time period. The application of standardized and automated methods have allowed for a consistent view of mangrove extent and change from 1995-2018, at 30m resolution. Results are compared with existing analyses, and complimented by biomass assessment, hotspots of change and a first look at mangrove degradation.
Conservation Technology Series: LiDAR for Ecology and Conservation
Online, 2017 Light detection and ranging (LiDAR), alternatively referred to as airborne or terrestrial laser scanning, is a remote sensing technique that produces a 3D point cloud of the structure of the terrain and the vegetation above it, which is a primary determinant of habitat quality for many species. Guidelines for use of airborne LiDAR are published in issue 3 of the conservation technology series. LiDAR provides a new perspective for observing ecosystems with unprecedented precision.
Tapanuli Orangutans: threats to the world's youngest ape species
The Batang Toru hydropower project, part of China's ambitious "Belt and Road Initiative" is proposing a 510 megawatt hydroelectric facility on the Toru River in Sumatra, Indonesia, which threatening the habitat of recently discovered species of Tapanuli Orangutan - and also located in a seismically active region. Space+science quickly developed this GLOBIL web application to support WWF's advocacy work concerning this project, which included collecting relevant information to serve online, and providing a cloud-free Sentinel-2 image mosaic to assess connectivity between habitat blocks.
Story Map: Seagrass Mapping in the Cloud
As part of our final prize round submmission to the Conservation X Labs tech prize, we developed a video, proof-of-concept and interactive story map to describe our benthic habitat mapping activities in Mozambique.
Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures
Online, 2014 The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS: Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Yunnan and Guangxi in China) is undergoing unprecedented changes. Many of these are positive, reflecting political stabilization and economic growth following decades of poverty and conflict. But the rate and type of development is also threatening critical natural resources, particularly native forests, the Mekong River and its tributaries, and many wild plant and animal species. The GMS faces a critical choice: it can either continue with unsustainable development and see many of its unique natural resources disappear forever or switch policies and choose a more sustainable path into the future. This report gives an overview of what is happening, and provides key recommendations for how natural resource management can be made more sustainable.
Spatial Distribution of Carbon Stored in Forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo
Nature Scientific Reports, 2017 National forest inventories in tropical regions are sparse and have large uncertainty in capturing the physiographical variations of forest carbon across landscapes. Here, we produce for the first time the spatial patterns of carbon stored in forests of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by using airborne LiDAR inventory of more than 432,000 ha of forests based on a designed probability sampling methodology. The LiDAR mean top canopy height measurements were trained to develop an unbiased carbon estimator by using 92 1-ha ground plots distributed across key forest types in DRC. LiDAR samples provided estimates of mean and uncertainty of aboveground carbon density at provincial scales and were combined with optical and radar satellite imagery in a machine learning algorithm to map forest height and carbon density over the entire country. By using the forest definition of DRC, we found a total of 23.3 ± 1.6 GtC carbon with a mean carbon density of 140 ± 9 MgC ha−1 in the aboveground and belowground live trees. The probability based LiDAR samples capture variations of structure and carbon across edaphic and climate conditions, and provide an alternative approach to national ground inventory for efficient and precise assessment of forest carbon resources for emission reduction (ER) programs.
Comparison of Two Independent Mapping Exercises in the Primeiras and Segundas Archipelago, Mozambique
Remote Sensing, September 2015 Production of coral reef habitat maps from high spatial resolution multispectral imagery is common practice and benefits from standardized accuracy assessment methods and many informative studies on the merits of different processing algorithms. However, few studies consider the full production workflow, including factors such as operator influence, visual interpretation and a-priori knowledge. An end-user might justifiably ask: Given the same imagery and field data, how consistent would two independent production efforts be? This paper is a post-study analysis of a project in which two teams of researchers independently produced maps of six coral reef systems of the archipelago of the Primeiras and Segundas Environmental Protected Area (PSEPA), Mozambique. Both teams used the same imagery and field data, but applied different approaches—pixel based vs. object based image analysis—and used independently developed classification schemes. The results offer a unique perspective on the map production process. Both efforts resulted in similar merged classes accuracies, averaging at 63% and 64%, but the maps were distinct in terms of scale of spatial patterns, classification disparities, and in other aspects where the mapping process is reliant on visual interpretation. Despite the difficulty in aligning the classification schemes clear patterns of correspondence and discrepancy were identified. The maps were consistent with respect to geomorphological level mapping (17 out of 30 paired comparisons at more than 75% agreement), and also agreed in the extent of coral containing areas within a difference of 16% across the archipelago. However, more detailed benthic habitat level classes were inconsistent. Mapping of deep benthic cover was the most subjective result and dependent on operator visual interpretation, yet this was one of the results of highest interest for the PSEPA management since it revealed a continuity of benthos between the islands and the impression of a proto-barrier reef.
The mangroves of the Zambezi Delta: increase in extent observed via satellite from 1994 to 2013
Remote Sensing, 2015 Mangroves are recognized for their valued ecosystem services provision while having the highest carbon density among forested ecosystems. Yet they are increasingly threatened by deforestation, conversion to agriculture and development, reducing the benefits they provide for local livelihoods, coastal protection and climate change mitigation. Accordingly, accurate estimates of mangrove area and change are fundamental for developing strategies for sustainable use, conservation and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+). The Zambezi River Delta in Mozambique contains one of the largest mangrove forests in Africa, and deforestation has been reported to be substantial, however these estimates vary widely. We used Landsat imagery from 1994, 2000 and 2013, to estimate a total current mangrove area of 37,034 ha, which is a net increase of 3723 ha over 19 years. The land cover change assessment was also used to provide perspective on ecosystem carbon stocks, showing that the Zambezi Delta mangrove ecosystem acts as a large carbon sink. Our findings reinforce the importance of conducting land cover change assessments using coherent data and analytical models, coupled with field validation. Broader application of our approach could help quantify the rates of natural change from erosion and land aggradation contrasted with anthropogenic causes.
Aboveground biomass mapping of African forest mosaics using canopy texture analysis: toward a regional approach
Ecological Applications, 2014
Earth observation data for mapping and evaluation of ecosystem services to improve human livelihoods and conserve species
ESA Living Planet Symposium proceedings, 2010 Mapping and evaluating ecosystem services is of increasing concern and urgency for conservation organizations such as WWF. Coupling biodiversity assessments with ecosystem services e.g., carbon sequestration, water regulation, sediment reduction, is an effective way to visualize additional financial and human benefits of conservation for decision makers. WWF is eager to apply various Earth Observation data to conservation applications for consistent mapping and monitoring of natural ecosystems and the potential impacts of their loss on humans and wildlife alike. Such examples include forest carbon mapping, integrated evaluation of ecosystem services (via the InVEST tool) and bundling endangered Tiger habitat with various ecosystem services for bundled benefits.
Modelling the Species Distribution of Flat-Headed Cats (Prionailurus planiceps), an Endangered South-East Asian Small Felid
PloS One, 2010 The flat-headed cat (Prionailurus planiceps) is one of the world's least known, highly threatened felids with a distribution restricted to tropical lowland rainforests in Peninsular Thailand/Malaysia, Borneo and Sumatra. Throughout its geographic range large-scale anthropogenic transformation processes, including the pollution of fresh-water river systems and landscape fragmentation, raise concerns regarding its conservation status. Despite an increasing number of camera-trapping field surveys for carnivores in South-East Asia during the past two decades, few of these studies recorded the flat-headed cat. In this study, we designed a predictive species distribution model using the Maximum Entropy (MaxEnt) algorithm to reassess the potential current distribution and conservation status of the flat-headed cat.