What multiscale environmental drivers can best be discriminated from a habitat index derived from a remotely sensed vegetation time series?

N.C. Coops, M.E. Schaepman, C.A. Mücher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding which environmental conditions are critical for species survival is a critical, ongoing question in ecology. These conditions can range from climate, at the broadest scale, through to elevation and other local landscape conditions, to fine scale landscape patterns of land cover and use. Remote sensing is an ideal technology to monitor and assess changes in these environmental conditions at a variety of spatial and temporal scales, with many studies focusing on the physiological state of vegetation derived from time series of satellite measurements. As vegetation occurs within specific climatic zones, over certain soil, terrain, and land cover types, it can be difficult to decipher the influence of the underlying role of climate, topography, soil, and land cover on the observed vegetation signal. In this article, we specifically addressed this problem by asking the question: what is the relative impact and importance of these different scales of environmental drivers on the temporal and spatial patterns observed on a habitat index derived from remotely sensed data? To find the solution, we utilized a SPOT VEGETATION-normalized difference vegetation index time series of Europe to create a remote-sensing-derived habitat index, which incorporates aspects of productivity, seasonality, and cover. We then compared the observed temporal and spatial variations in the index to a pan-Europe terrestrial classification system, which explicitly incorporates variations in climate, terrain, soil parent material, land cover, and use. Results indicated that the most accurate level of discrimination from the habitat index was at the broadest level of the hierarchy, climate, while the poorest degree of discrimination was associated with elevation. In terms of similarity on the index across time and space, we found that arable and forest cover classes were more similar across elevation and parent materials than across other land cover types within them. Analyzing the remote-sensing index, at multiple scales, provides significant insights into the drivers of satellite-derived greenness indices, as well as highlights the benefit and cautions associated with linking satellite-derived indirect indicators to species distribution modeling and biodiversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1529-1543
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • earth observation data
  • land-cover data
  • species richness
  • climate-change
  • global patterns
  • diversity
  • scale
  • distributions
  • suitability
  • energy


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