A new “resilience sensing system” can identify ecosystems that are at risk of collapse, research suggests.
The system uses satellites to find areas of concern – including those at risk of “tipping points” – and can also measure the success of conservation and restoration efforts.
Resilient ecosystems have a greater ability to recover from shocks such as droughts, fires and floods – so a decline in resilience makes an ecosystem more vulnerable.
The research team, led by the Global Systems Institute (GSI) at the University if Exeter, has developed a prototype sensing system.
Its preliminary results suggest that the global average resilience has declined over the past 20 years.
“By identifying areas that are losing resilience, this system shows us which places we should be most concerned about,” said GSI Director Professor Tim Lenton.
“This may raise a red flag, guiding action to restore resilience.
“This is especially important in places where a tipping point may occur (a boundary that sparks irreversible change), such as the Amazon rainforest.”
A recent study by the GSI team showed that the Amazon rainforest is losing resilience – a condition “consistent” with an impending tipping point that could trigger the die-off and turn the forest into savanna. may change.
The new paper is based on routine Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) measurements to see how ecosystems respond to changing conditions.
Its results, based on 20 years of NDVI data, include:
- An “apparent” loss of resilience in the eastern Mediterranean, Central America and Catinga (northeast Brazil), all of which are experiencing prolonged droughts.
- The strongest trends in decline in resilience are in tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests, montane grasslands and shrublands.
- The study “zoomed in” on South and East Asia and selected example areas where resilience has been lost: dry deciduous forests in India, coniferous forests in China and “large portions” of Mongolian steppe grasslands.
Professor Lenton said the sensing system can measure the effectiveness of projects such as TIST, through which thousands of farmers have planted and protected millions of trees in four countries.
“You can see if these projects are giving resilience to an ecosystem,” he said.
The system now needs to be developed further, and Professor Lenton said that incorporating marine ecosystems (not just on land) would be a huge step forward.
The research team included the University of Montpellier, the Technical University of Munich and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Funders included the Leverhulme Trust and the Alan Turing Institute.
material provided by University of Exeter, Note: Content can be edited for style and length.