“The reason why so many plant species coexist in tropical forests, despite intense competition for resources, is an unresolved question in community ecology: the answer has far-reaching implications given the many links between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.” (Bongalov et al. , 2019).

Airborne imaging spectroscopy is emerging as a powerful tool to map tropical forest diversity but few studies have used the technique to test ecological theory. Bongalov et al. (2019) used data obtained in Borneo by the former NERC Airborne Research Facility (NARF) to remotely map beta-diversity, which correlated well with plot-based measurements. The data were obtained with the airborne Fenix imaging spectrometer, calibrated by NERC FSF and processed by NEODAAS-Plymouth – working in support of the major NERC Human Modified Tropical Forests programme. The new method allowed mapping beta-diversity for entire landscapes containing multiple forest types, something not possible with traditional field-plot based approaches. Analysis of the remotely sensed beta-diversity map of Sepilok, Borneo, revealed forest-type-specific patterns of spatial autocorrelation in community composition spanning over kilometres – beyond the scales typically considered in field studies. The paper confirmed that that beta- diversity is structured by environmental factors, and that spatial autocorrelation in composition arises, in part, from the spatial organisation of the environment itself. The airborne capability involved in this project is now being provided by the King’s College London node of the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), in cooperation with British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and NEODAAS.

Bongalov, B., Burslem, D. F. R. P., Jucker, T., Thompson, S. E. D., Rosindell, J., Swinfield, T., et al. (2019). Reconciling the contribution of environmental and stochastic structuring of tropical forest diversity through the lens of imaging spectroscopy. Ecology Letters, 22(10), 1608-1619. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13357