Feasibility of using high-resolution satellite imagery to assess vertebrate wildlife populations.

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Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, ISSN: 1523-1739, Vol: 31, Issue: 1, Page: 213-220

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LaRue, Michelle A; Stapleton, Seth; Anderson, Morgan
Agricultural and Biological Sciences; Environmental Science
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article description
Although remote sensing has been used for >40 years to learn about Earth, use of very high-resolution satellite imagery (VHR) (<1-m resolution) has become more widespread over the past decade for studying wildlife. As image resolution increases, there is a need to understand the capabilities and limitations of this exciting new path in wildlife research. We reviewed studies that used VHR to examine remote populations of wildlife. We then determined characteristics of the landscape and the life history of species that made the studies amenable to use of satellite imagery and developed a list of criteria necessary for appropriate use of VHR in wildlife research. From 14 representative articles, we determined 3 primary criteria that must be met for a system and species to be appropriately studied with VHR: open landscape, target organism's color contrasts with the landscape, and target organism is of detectable size. Habitat association, temporal exclusivity, coloniality, landscape differentiation, and ground truthing increase the utility of VHR for wildlife research. There is an immediate need for VHR imagery in conservation research, particularly in remote areas of developing countries, where research can be difficult. For wildlife researchers interested in but unfamiliar with remote sensing resources and tools, understanding capabilities and current limitations of VHR imagery is critical to its use as a conservation and wildlife research tool.