Ecosystem Mapping to Identify Conservation Opportunities and to Assess Outcomes of Conservation Actions

Project: Research project

Project Details


Ecosystem Mapping to Identify Conservation Opportunities and to Assess Outcomes of Conservation Actions Ecosystem Mapping to Identify Conservation Opportunities and to Assess Outcomes of Conservation Actions SUMMARY OF PROJECT: I propose to take conservation solutions and impact generated in the watersheds throughout the tropics by applying our state-of-the-art technologies and scientific techniques. Our approach is unique because it places paramount emphasis on very high resolution, easy-to-understand measurements of ecological composition, structure and function. By applying our approach to more geographic areas, we can simultaneously advance scientific knowledge about these regions and develop quantitative baseline information on landscape and ecosystem processes for use in future assessments of conservation and sustainable development outcomes. As a result, this proposal directly supports MacArthur efforts to sustain and improve the ecological conditions conducive to biodiversity conservation and human well-being. ORGANIZATION OVERVIEW: ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves. CONTEXT: Our original study region, the Andes-Amazon, is a huge and complex environment spanning enormous environmental, economic, cultural and political gradients. We have developed techniques that are agnostic to many of the factors that would otherwise make mapping overly contextual and difficult to extrapolate and compare across regions, whether on land or on coral reefs. Our methods may not be universal per se, but they are sufficiently general to allow immediate application to new natural and human environments, with the understanding that improvements based on application, testing, validation and collaboration will be essential along the way. In some cases, such as with deforestation history, we will be more sensitive to satellite data availability (i.e. cloudiness and NASA data archive) than to the contextual factors listed above. Nonetheless, even in this case, there may be improvements to make based on the specific types of land use that occur, and their spatial patterning within any given watershed. On the other hand, mapping canopy biodiversity could prove to be highly contextual, and thus would require emphasis in the field and with collaborators to validate and make general for others to use. The key here is that we know how to do this, as our experience over the years throughout the Andes, in Africa and Madagascar, on Pacific islands, and in other regions has afforded us the opportunity to develop methods, protocols and know-how to take on new challenges emerging from context-dependent processes. DESCRIPTION OF FUNDED ACTIVITIES: The overarching project goal is to further refine the use of high-resolution ecological remote sensing and modeling methods to map and monitor watersheds in tropical regions in support of conservation efforts and outcome assessment. This goal directly addresses a critically important gap for global watershed conservation: we need scientifically-based methodologies for tracking and monitoring multiple ecological processes at the watershed scale, including the ecological facets and functions that support biological diversity. RESULTS: Create spatially-explicit maps and modeling results for use in planning conservation initiatives, engaging conservation and resource management partners, and monitoring future conservation outcomes. LEADERSHIP: We are highly qualified to carry out every aspect of the proposed work. On the science and technical side, we are leaders in satellite, airborne and field-based mapping and scientific analysis of ecosystems at regional scales. The watershed and ridge-to-reef level fits well within this category. Our work has resulted in hundreds of publications, extensive media coverage, and acceptance throughout the international science and policy- development communities. On the logistics side, we have operated heavily throughout around the world, including on the ground in the Americas, SE Asia, Africa, and among the Pacific Islands. On the institutional side, we have trust within environment ministries, and are seen as a scientific and technical source without the stigma of environmental activism or advocacy that often typifies conservation NGOs. LEARNING & EVALUATION: We believe that the best evaluation steps are: (i) anonymous, external scientific review of the methods and results; and (ii) evaluation by partner agencies, particularly the ministries of environment in each host country. There is no better review than anonymous, peer review for high-end journal publishing. This is the benchmark approach used by national and international governing bodies (i.e. IPCC) and the academic community. Evidenced by our peer-reviewed papers, most in the highest journals, we place emphasis on this process to both ensure the scientific validity of our work and to improve it over time. Because we work closely with partners in-country, we value the evaluation often provided by the partners to improve and then accept the results of our work. This works well for ensuring that regional or local-scale knowledge and perspectives are ingested into the evaluation process, and reciprocally, for strengthening the ties between GDCS and the partners. SUSTAINABILITY / NEXT STAGES: Our results will be of high value immediately for conservation planning and into the future for outcome assessment. Data collected and analyzed now have much higher intrinsic value than if collected after conservation initiatives are underway. Moreover, the results obtained now can be used to make future projects more effective. PAST PERFORMANCE: Our experience and achievements in the region started during a decade of intensive research (1996-2005) in the Amazon basin. We published many high-profile scientific publications, some of which were covered worldwide and which had a specific impact on conservation thinking and federal resource policy development. Starting in 2006, we focused specifically in the western Amazon and Andes, and have accumulated much experience in the field, in the air, and with satellite data, as well as with a multitude of partners throughout the country, from federal to department to private organizations. Our program has also reached more than 2000 organizations worldwide, and currently there are thousands of users of our results and approach. In 2009, we developed the first high-resolution mapping of carbon stocks and emissions in the Amazon, in close partnership with the Peruvian and Colombian governments and several NGOs. In 2015 we added Ecuador. In 2016, we included more Central American countries and Malaysia, Madagascar, and other regions. In 2018 we added coral reefs in the Caribbean and Pacific, using new methods expanding from those developed for forests. As of 2020, we are now able to map terrestrial and coral reef ecosystems as a single mission, single platform and single team. This ridge-to-reef capability changes the game for coastal and marine applications of GAO data.
Effective start/end date9/15/2012/31/21


  • MacArthur Foundation: $1,221,612.00


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