Species Distribution Modeling Using Remote Sensing

In this research, species distribution modeling is used as a tool to understand the environmental determinants that control the distribution of species and to obtain spatial patterns on the species' distribution. Current projects include evaluating the usefulness of newly available vegetation remote sensing data (e.g., from NASA's Moderate Imaging Spectroradiometer [MODIS]) in species distributional modeling, understanding the spatial distribution of tree diversity in the Amazon basin, predicting present-day, future, and past distribution of biomes and vertebrates in the diverse Tropical Andes, predicting invasions of savanna reptiles into fragmented rainforests in Cameroon, and modeling the geographic distribution of avian malaria blood parasites throughout African rainforests. In species distributional modeling, also called "bioclimatic envelope modeling," empirical relationships between observed species distributions and environmental variables are established and, thereafter, projected onto geographic space.

A relatively new research venue involves explaining and predicting genetic and morphological diversity over a landscape using environmental correlates. Species distribution modeling is used as a first step, and statistical relationships between phylogeographic and environmental patterns are determined and projected over the regions where the species of interest is predicted to reside. The results from this project will not only increase our fundamental understanding of evolutionary processes in a spatial context but will also enable decision makers to use this information in developing conservation strategies.

Many of these projects are carried out with NASA-funded grants to the Center for Tropical Research and in collaboration with scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Some examples of these projects are given below.

Related Publications

Larison, B.; Harrigan, R. J.; Thomassen, H.; Rubenstein, D. I.; Chan-Golston, A. M.; Li, E.; Smith, T. B. How the zebra got its stripes: a problem with too many solutions. Royal Society Open Science 2015, 2; DOI 10.1098/rsos.140452.
Giorgi, A. P.; Rovzar, C.; Davis, K. S.; Fuller, T.; Buermann, W.; Saatchi, S.; Smith, T. B.; Silveira, L. F.; Gillespie, T. W. Spatial conservation planning framework for assessing conservation opportunities in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. Applied Geography 2014, 53, 369–376; DOI 10.1016/j.apgeog.2014.06.013.
Fuller, T. L.; Havers, F.; Xu, C.; Fang, L.; Cao, W.; Shu, Y.; Widdowson, M.; Smith, T. B. Identifying areas with a high risk of human infection with the avian influenza (H7N9) virus in East Asia. Journal of Infection 2014, 69, 174–181; DOI 10.1016/j.jinf.2014.03.006.
Thomassen, H. A.; Fuller, T. L.; Asefi-Najafabady, S.; Shiplacoff, J. A.; Mulembakani, P. M.; Blumberg, S.; Johnston, S. C.; Kisalu, N. K.; Kinkela, T. L.; Fair, J. N.; Wolfe, N. D.; Shongo, R. L.; LeBreton, M.; Meyer, H.; Wright, L. L.; Muyembe, J.; Buermann, W.; Okitolonda, E.; Hensley, L. E.; Lloyd-Smith, J. O.; Smith, T. B.; Rimoin, A. W. Pathogen-host associations and predicted range shifts of human Monkeypox in response to climate change in Central Africa. PLOS ONE 2013, 8 (7); DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0066071. PDF
Smith, T. B.; Harrigan, R. J.; Kirschel, A. N.; Buermann, W.; Saatchi, S.; Blumstein, D. T.; de Kort, S. R.; Slabbekoorn, H. Predicting bird song from space. Evolutionary Applications 2013, 865–874; DOI 10.1111/eva.12072. PDF
Fuller, T. L.; Thomassen, H. A.; Peralvo, M.; Wolfgang, B.; Mila, B.; Kieswetter, C. M.; Jarrin-V, P.; Cameron Devitt, S. E.; Mason, E.; Schweizer, R. M.; Schluneggar, J.; Chan, J.; Wang, O.; Schneider, C. J.; Pollinger, J. P.; Saatchi, S.; Graham, C. H.; Wayne, R. K.; Smith, T. B. Intraspecific morphological and genetic variation of common species predicts ranges of threatened ones. Proceedings of the Royal Society Biology 2013, 280; DOI 10.1098/rspb.2013.1237. PDF
Fuller, T. L.; Gilbert, M.; Martin, V.; Cappelle, J.; Hosseini, P.; Njabo, K. Y.; Aziz, S. A.; Xiao, X.; Peter, D.; Smith, T. B. Predicting hotspots for influenza virus reassortment. Emerging Infectious Diseases 2013, 19 (4), 581–588; DOI 10.3201/eid1904.120903. PDF
Mendoza, E.; Fuller, T. L.; Thomassen, H. A.; Buermann, W.; Ramirez-Mejia, D.; Smith, T. B. A preliminary assessment of the effectiveness of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor for protecting potential Baird’s tapir (Tapirus bairdii Gill, 1865) habitat in Southern Mexico. Integrative Zoology 2013, 8, 35–47; DOI 10.1111/1749-4877.12005. PDF
Thomassen, H. A.; Fuller, T.; Buermann, W.; Milá, B.; Kieswetter, C. M.; Jarrín-V, P.; Cameron, S. E.; Mason, E.; Schweizer, R.; Schlunegger, J.; Chan, J.; Wang, O.; Peralvo, M.; Schneider, C. J.; Graham, C. H.; Pollinger, J. P.; Saatchi, S.; Wayne, R. K.; Smith, T. B. Mapping evolutionary process: a multi-taxa approach to conservation prioritization. Evolutionary Applications 2011, 4, 397–413. PDF
Smith, T. B.; Grether, G. The importance of conserving evolutionary processes. In Conservation Biology: Evolution in Action; Carroll, S. P., Fox, C. W., Eds.; Oxford University Press: Oxford, U.K., 2008; pp 85–98. PDF
Gillespie, T. W.; Foody, G. M.; Rocchini, D.; Giorgi, A. P.; Saatchi, S. Measuring and modeling biodiversity from space. Progress in Physical Geography 2008, 32, 203–221. PDF
Smith, T. B.; Mila, B.; Grether, G. F.; Slabbekoorn, H.; Sepil, I.; Buermann, W.; Saatchi, S.; Pollinger, J. P. Evolutionary consequences of human disturbance in a rainforest bird species from Central Africa. Molecular Ecology 2008, 17, 58–71; DOI 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2007.03478.x. PDF
ter Steege, H.; Pitman, N. C.; Phillips, O. L.; Chave, J.; Sabatier, D.; Duque, A.; Molino, J.; Prevost, M.; Spichiger, R.; Castellanos, H.; Hildebrand, P.; Vasquez, R. Continental-scale patterns of canopy tree composition and function across Amazonia. Nature 2006, 443, 444–447. PDF
Turner, W.; Spector, S.; Gardiner, N.; Fladeland, M.; Sterling, E.; Steininger, M. Remote sensing for biodiversity science and conservation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 2003, 18, 306–314. PDF

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Center for Tropical Research | UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
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The Center for Tropical Research, located on the third floor of La Kretz Hall, is part of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. For general inquiries, contact Christa Gomez, CTR Office Manager, at (310) 206-6234, or by email at cgomez@lifesci.ucla.edu. Visitors are always welcome.

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