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Biodiversity Articles

NASA has numerous datasets and resources for monitoring biological diversity. The Biological Diversity Toolkit provides direct links to those datasets, related webinars on using the data, and data recipes and tutorials. 

The Biological Diversity and Ecological Forecasting Data Pathfinder, geared for new users, provides direct links to commonly used datasets and links to tools for visualizing and analyzing the data. 

Read Harnessing Remote Sensing Data for Biological and Ecological Research to see how NASA data are being used in research applications.

Biodiversity image with various colored icons.

Over half of the world’s biodiversity has disappeared since 1970, according to the World Wildlife Fund Living Planet 2018 Report, largely due to human interactions with the environment. Biologists, ecologists, and wildlife and conservation managers around the globe are conducting research into why this change is happening at an unprecedented rate, the impacts of this change, and ways to conserve these vital natural resources. With the information acquired from both ground-based and satellite-based data, decision makers are able to monitor and respond to changes in biodiversity.

These articles, many from the Sensing Our Planet series, highlight some of these efforts. To meet some of the scientists using Earthdata for ecological research and applications, see our Data User Profiles.

Articles by Subject Area

Biological Classification | Ecological Dynamics | Ecosystems | Vegetation | Habitat Conversion/Fragmentation | Conservation | Land Use/Land Cover | Coastal Processes | Ocean Chemistry | Ocean Color/Water Quality

Biological Classification

Biological classification is the way in which scientists group living organisms based on their similarities.

How Birds Respond to Extreme Weather
Extreme weather events such as heat waves and drought affect the presence of certain bird species.

The feather followers
Many eyes help protect the birds they love to watch.

A Remote Sensing Based Vegetation Classification Logic for Global Land Cover Analysis
A simple new logic for classifying vegetation using the Global Land 1 km Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) dataset.

Ecological Dynamics

Ecological dynamics addresses the changes occurring within human-ecological systems, including such things as ecosystem functions, community structure, and species/population interactions.

A catalog of change
Researchers assemble a picture of climate change impacts around the world.

A Rainforest Divided
The Amazon rainforest is losing ground as human activity fragments the forests.

The blob
Too much warmth and too little wind fueled a massive marine heat wave along the Pacific Coast.

Clues in the nectar
Honeybees signal a worrisome trend in plant-pollinator relationships.

Linking Boundary-Layer Circulations and Surface Processes during FIFE 89. Part I: Observational Analysis
NASA's Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distributed Active Archive Center (ORNL DAAC) provides information about the Earth's biogeochemical dynamics.

Microbes in the murk
Ancient life survives in suspension under the sea.

New angles
Scientists teach an old satellite new tricks - capture changes happening in living systems.

Pinpointing an invasive plant’s next move
Vegetation data helps researchers and resource managers develop a new approach to stopping species invasions.

Seeing climate through the lives of plants
Ground observers and satellites monitor plant life cycles and the timing of seasons.

Sensing Invasive Species From Space
Researchers are increasingly using remote sensing to map where invasive species are and where they could spread in order to minimize their damage.

Silvus Borealis
The relation between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and beavers may not be readily apparent to the average person.

The mysterious lives of leatherbacks
Knowing how leatherback sea turtles migrate could keep them safer.

Tracking survival among Idaho’s mule deer
Satellite sensing of summer plants and winter snow helps biologists predict mule deer populations.

Trapping tapirs
An endangered species emerges from the shadows.

Younger sea ice and scarcer polar bears
The fate of older sea ice in the Arctic may be key to the future of polar bears.


Ecosystems are the ways that biotic (living) communities interact with the abiotic components (e.g. air, water, soil) within their environment. These biotic and abiotic components are interconnected through nutrient cycles and energy flows.

Using Satellites to Measure the Size and Shape of Mangroves
Researchers use remote sensing to measure mangrove forest extent and tree height to inform sustainable management of these ecosystems.

Mapping Carbon beyond Forests: New Harmonized Global Maps of Above and Belowground Biomass Carbon
New maps combine remotely sensed biomass data for different land cover types into harmonized global maps of above and belowground biomass.

Boom or Bust: The Bond Between Fish and Phytoplankton
Ocean color data from the SeaWiFS and MODIS sensors enable researchers to examine the link between phytoplankton blooms and fish and bird health.

Checking Earth’s Vital Signs
The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment is the first-ever attempt to take stock of the health of the planet as a whole.

Fish in the Trees
Six months of the year, from December to May, the Amazon River floods the surrounding rainforest, allowing fish increased habitat during the rainy season.

Invasion of the ctenophores
Greek scientists protect the Aegean sea from a predatory invader.

Pedestrians of Eddy Avenue
Rotating blobs of ocean water may be key to sustaining fisheries.

Repatterning the world
As wildlands shrink, scientists study the ecologies that people have tamed.

Shadowing the tuna boats
Logbooks, satellites, and game theory help steward tuna in the Pacific.

Zebras without borders
A new generation reconnects with greener pastures.


Vegetation refers to types of plants and vegetation structures, such as forest composition, biomass, vegetation cover, and more.

A View From Above
FLUXNET, a global network of research sites that measure regional carbon, energy and water vapor exchange between terrestrial vegetation and the atmosphere.

Biomes in the balance
How are landscapes in the Southwest adapting?

Coming Soon from a Space Station Near You
The ECOSTRESS, GEDI, and OCO-3 Earth observing missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will help scientists better understand Earth systems.

Fiery Temperament
Understanding ecosystems unlikely to recover from human pressures.

Freezing in a warming world
The Easter Freeze of 2007 provides clues to the future of plants.

Grasping the subtle needs of vegetation
Researchers seek to understand the invisible ingredients that make plants thrive.

Grasslands Initiative
Mitigating the effects of agriculture on North American grassland biomes.

Heart of drought
A mighty forest fades in the Congo.

Hidden carbon
Satellites measure the give and take between trees and temperatures.

ICESat-2 Data Usher in a New Age of Exploration
Data from NASA’s ICESat-2 mission provide incredibly accurate measurements of Earth elevation change (including forest cover and vegetation) —and much more.

Mapping the changing forests of Africa
A new, biomass map of Africa will help answer a complex question: what are the global and local effects of land-use change in African forests?

Perspective on Plants
Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group (NTSG) at the University of Montana uses MODIS data to develop plant productivity maps.

Seeing the forest for the carbon
Researchers peer deep into tropical forests, weighing their status as climate balancers.

The Incredible Glowing Algae
Phytoplankton blooms occur in all the Earth’s oceans when nutrient and sunlight conditions are right.

The secrets of leaves
A silent exchange between land and air reveals what we don't know.

Transcending Boundaries
Tracking net primary productivity (NPP) helps us know the condition of the Earth's land surface and have better appreciation for ecosystem processes.

Habitat Conversion/Fragmentation

Land quality can suffer as a result of man-made land transformation and land use change. Common causes of habitat conversion are deforestation/reforestation, suburbanization, and agricultural intensification (wetland drainage, irrigation of naturally dry areas, and degradation due to overgrazing).

A Rainforest Divided
The Amazon rainforest is losing ground as human activity fragments the forests.

From the Dust Bowl to the Sahel
A severe drought combined with poor soil conservation practices can lead to extreme topsoil erosion, with devastating effects on the land.

The Road to Recovery
According to a recent report in Science, the Amazon rainforest has lost nearly two million acres to logging each year since 1996.


Conservation is the preservation and careful management of the environment and of the natural resources, which is critical to maintaining ecological balance.

Mapping the changing forests of Africa
A new biomass map of Africa will help answer a complex question: what are the global and local effects of land-use change in African forests?

Where the wetlands are
A new map breaks down conservation borders.

Land Use/Land Cover

Land use or land cover refers to the observed physical cover and natural productivity of the land including vegetation and human structure.

Counting Trees in Africa's Drylands
Using commercial satellite data and machine learning, scientists discovered a surprisingly large number of trees in Africa's drylands.

Finite forests
Remote sensing proves ideal for watching rapid changes to Russia's remotest forests.

Fish in the Trees
Six months of the year, from December to May, the Amazon River floods the surrounding rainforest, allowing fish increased habitat during the rainy season.

Growing Data
A research group at San Diego State University interested in the seasonal dynamics of plant growth in the Arctic has both taken advantage of and improved available satellite data from NASA.

Land Matters
The International Satellite Land Surface Climatology Project involves very large-scale field experiments to develop and test our methods for understanding the Earth’s ecosystems and how they interact with the atmosphere to influence climate.

Laying the Groundwork
From forest to desert, as seen from space, details of various land cover types give scientists the groundwork with which to ultimately assess possible CO2-induced global change.

Nearly 20 Years of Change at Your Fingertips
Interactively explore your world your way with nearly 20 years of MODIS global imagery and the EOSDIS Worldview data visualization application.

New angles
Scientists teach an old satellite new tricks - capture changes happening in living systems.

Sowing the Seeds of Change?
A regional modeling study suggests that summers in the United States may be different from 200 years ago as a result of large-scale land use changes.

Coastal Processes

Coastal processes is a scientific field of study concerned with land immediately affected by marine processes, which includes variables pertaining to both coastal features and the processes that affect them.

Cattle crops and coral: Flood plumes and the Great Barrier Reef
Understanding river runoff will help solidify the link between land use and coral health.

The researcher, the reef, and a storm
Can marine reserves protect Earth’s underwater nurseries?

Ocean Chemistry

Ocean chemistry is the scientific field of study pertaining to the composition and properties of seawater, including the pH and the salinity.

Fleeting phytoplankton
Along the Antarctic Peninsula, sea ice and phytoplankton are becoming scarce.

Polynyas CO2 and Diatoms in the Southern Ocean
Recent climate model predictions indicate that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may trigger a dramatic shift in phytoplankton communities in the Southern Ocean.

Spin cycle
So much depends on the oceans’ deep churn.

Ocean Color/Water Quality

How visible light and oceanic water interact determines the color of the ocean; these interactions are indicative of components, such as phytoplankton, sediment, inorganic matter, dissolved organic matter, and other types of pollutants that contribute to overall water quality. Ocean color is not only measured in situ, but can be measured using remotely sensed data.

An ocean full of deserts
Scientists and satellites watch as the least productive areas of the oceans expand.

Hunting Dangerous Algae from Space
Harmful algal blooms occur around the world and can create health problems for both animals and humans.

Illuminating Photosynthesis in the Arabian Sea
The experiment measured the dynamics between phytoplankton growth and other biological activity and the amount of incoming sunlight (shortwave) and available nutrients.

Stirring up Life
Using data from three satellite instruments, researchers find that a tropical cyclone had a significant effect on phytoplankton production in the South China Sea.

Winter blooms in the Arabian Sea
A tiny organism and its tenants make an unexpected appearance.

Unwelcome enrichment in the Arctic
Microscopic plastics infiltrate Arctic sea ice with unknown consequences for the ecosystem.

Data User Profiles

Meet some of the scientists using Earthdata for ecological research and applications.

Dr. Sparkle Malone uses Earth observation data to explore how a changing climate impacts ecosystem structure and function.

Dr. David Lagomasino uses Earth observing data to study coastal mangrove forests, some of Earth’s most biologically diverse environments.

Dr. Eric Bullock uses Earth observation data to explore the consequences of land use and land cover change as a result of deforestation in the Amazon.

Dr. Faisal Hossain uses NASA Earth observing data to improve water management and accelerate economic development in Asia and Southeast Asia.

Dr. Eric Sproles uses Earth-observing data as part of his studies into water’s eco-social effects.

Cara Wilson uses NASA Earth science data to better understand the possible connection between harmful algal blooms and southern right whale mortality.

Dr. Laura Bourgeau-Chavez uses NASA Earth science data for studying wetlands and wildfire.

Dr. Michael Dietze uses NASA Earth science data to improve ecological models through the integration of remotely-sensed data.

Dr. Nancy French uses NASA Earth science data to study the effects of wildfires on forest ecosystems.

Fred Huemmrich uses NASA Earth Science Data to study ecosystem functions and how ecosystems respond to environmental conditions.

Mark Trice uses NASA Earth science data to monitor the health of Chesapeake Bay.

Dr. Monica Papeş uses NASA Earth science data to determine where species live in a particular region and why they live where they do.

Dr. Nancy Glenn uses NASA Earth science data to study dryland ecosystems.

Katherine Pitts uses NASA Earth science data to study the impacts of climate change and analyze remotely-sensed geophysical data.

Kevin Gallo uses NASA Earth Science Data to improve radar and satellite estimations of hail size and damage using vegetation indices.

Dr. Lucy Hutyra uses NASA Earth science data for studying the cycling of carbon, especially in urban environments.

Cecile S. Rousseaux uses NASA Earth science data to study the effects of climate on ocean biogeochemistry, specifically on phytoplankton.

Adnan Al-Azri uses NASA Earth science data to study why periodic harmful blooms of algae occur in the Sea of Oman and Arabian Sea.

Dr. Bridget Seegers uses NASA Earth science data for developing new ways to study water quality and track harmful algal blooms.

Dr. Priscila Kienteca Lange uses NASA ocean biology data to study the biomass and distribution of these microscopic organisms.

Explore more Data User Profiles

Published March 5, 2020.

Page Last Updated: Nov 23, 2020 at 4:11 PM EST