Potential contributions of remote sensing to ecosystem service assessments

Margaret E. Andrew, Michael A. Wulder, Trisalyn A. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Ecological and conservation research has provided a strong scientific underpinning to the modeling of ecosystem services (ESs) over space and time, by identifying the ecological processes and components of biodiversity (ecosystem service providers, functional traits) that drive ES supply. Despite this knowledge, efforts to map the distribution of ESs often rely on simple spatial surrogates that provide incomplete and non-mechanistic representations of the biophysical variables they are intended to proxy. However, alternative data sets are available that allow for more direct, spatially nuanced inputs to ES mapping efforts. Many spatially explicit, quantitative estimates of biophysical parameters are currently supported by remote sensing, with great relevance to ES mapping. Additional parameters that are not amenable to direct detection by remote sensing may be indirectly modeled with spatial environmental data layers. We review the capabilities of modern remote sensing for describing biodiversity, plant traits, vegetation condition, ecological processes, soil properties, and hydrological variables and highlight how these products may contribute to ES assessments. Because these products often provide more direct estimates of the ecological properties controlling ESs than the spatial proxies currently in use, they can support greater mechanistic realism in models of ESs. By drawing on the increasing range of remote sensing instruments and measurements, data sets appropriate to the estimation of a given ES can be selected or developed. In so doing, we anticipate rapid progress to the spatial characterization of ecosystem services, in turn supporting ecological conservation, management, and integrated land use planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)328-353
Number of pages26
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Landsat
  • LiDAR
  • biodiversity
  • ecosystem function
  • ecosystem processes
  • ecosystem services
  • functional traits
  • hyperspectral
  • landscape functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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