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Technical Thematic Report No. 17. - Monitoring ecosystems remotely: a selection of trends measured from satellite observations of Canada


This paper used both coarse and medium resolution remote sensing data as a means of assessing the status and trends of biodiversity in Canada’s ecosystems. The three analyses that examine trends over time showcase some of the changes in Canada’s landscapes over the last thirty years, including a net increase in the area of Fire Scars between 1985 and 2005, and point to an intensification of agriculture, particularly within the Boreal Plains Ecozone+ (should be corroborated with finer scale information). Particularly striking is the finding that primary productivity has increased significantly (p < 0.05) on 22% of Canada’s land mass between 1985 and 2006 while only decreasing significantly on only 0.5% of Canada’s land mass.

Data on ecosystem status was analyzed by ecozone+ from two newer datasets, the fPAR dataset from the MODIS sensor which is used to create the DHI, and the EOSD dataset derived from Landsat data for the forested region of Canada showing status of forest and forest edge density. The utility of these measures of ecosystem status for future ecosystem monitoring remain to be seen.

It is important to recognize that remote sensing experts, who compile and analyze the data, are not typically also experts in ecology; and ecology experts, who interpret the findings and put them into context, are not typically also remote sensing experts. It is therefore very important that these two groups work together closely, ensuring that the most biodiversity relevant questions are asked and answered with remote sensing data, while understanding the limitations. There are a wide range of users of remote sensing data and one dataset can be used for many purposes and analyzed in many different ways. As we move forward with using remote sensing information for ecological monitoring, it is important that user groups and remote sensing data providers get together to make sure that the data is useful to all and the right questions are being asked and answered to meet monitoring objectives.