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The View From Above

Satellite imagery is giving biologists a whole new perspective on the phenomena they study.

By | February 1, 2012

By removing the goats from kipuka alala, Hawaiian authorities hoped to protect the critically endangered Palila honeycreeper bird, which nests and feeds mainly on the seeds of the mamane tree (far right), also endangered. Satellite, airborne, and on-the-ground analysis of vegetation density and composition in Kipuka Alala suggests that the removal of goats seems to have had the unintended effect of enabling the expansion of invasive weed species such as fountain grass and fireweed (weed with flowers). Both are of major concern because fountain grass increases the risk of intense wildfires, and fireweed is toxic to livestock.

By removing the goats from kipuka alala, Hawaiian authorities hoped to protect the critically endangered Palila honeycreeper bird, which nests and feeds mainly on the seeds of the mamane tree (far right), also endangered. Satellite, airborne, and on-the-ground analysis of vegetation density and composition in Kipuka Alala suggests that the removal of goats seems to have had the unintended effect of enabling the expansion of invasive weed species such as fountain grass and fireweed (weed with flowers). Both are of major concern because fountain grass increases the risk of intense wildfires, and fireweed is toxic to livestock.

RYAN P. O'DONNELL (BIRD); JIM KELLNER (FIREWEED)

The View From Above Image Gallery

Life scientists from a wide range of fields—from ecology and epidemiology to anthropology, marine microbiology, and animal behavior—are increasingly turning to rapidly advancing and ever-more-accessible satellite imagery to gain a more sophisticated, big-picture understanding of how organisms interact not only with their immediate environments, but also with the more expansive, global landscape.

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