Remotely sensed spectral heterogeneity as a proxy of species diversity: Recent advances and open challenges

Duccio Rocchini*, Niko Balkenhol, Gregory A. Carter, Giles M. Foody, Thomas W. Gillespie, Kate S. He, Salit Kark, Noam Levin, Kelly Lucas, Miska Luoto, Harini Nagendra, Jens Oldeland, Carlo Ricotta, Jane Southworth, Markus Neteler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

297 Scopus citations


Environmental heterogeneity is considered to be one of the main factors associated with biodiversity given that areas with highly heterogeneous environments can host more species due to their higher number of available niches. In this view, spatial variability extracted from remotely sensed images has been used as a proxy of species diversity, as these data provide an inexpensive means of deriving environmental information for large areas in a consistent and regular manner. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of the state of the art in the use of spectral heterogeneity for estimating species diversity. We will examine a number of issues related to this theme, dealing with: i) the main sensors used for biodiversity monitoring, ii) scale matching problems between remotely sensed and field diversity data, iii) spectral heterogeneity measurement techniques, iv) types of species taxonomic diversity measures and how they influence the relationship between spectral and species diversity, v) spectral versus genetic diversity, and vi) modeling procedures for relating spectral and species diversity. Our review suggests that remotely sensed spectral heterogeneity information provides a crucial baseline for rapid estimation or prediction of biodiversity attributes and hotspots in space and time.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)318-329
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Informatics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are particularly grateful to the Editor Ni-Bin Chang, three anonymous reviewers and Tessa Say for incisive suggestions which greatly improved a previous version of the paper. DR is partially funded by the Autonomous Province of Trento (Italy) , ACE-SAP project (regulation number 23, June 12th 2008, of the University and Scientific Research Service ).


  • Airborne sensors
  • Alpha-diversity
  • Beta-diversity
  • Biodiversity
  • Distance decay
  • Environmental heterogeneity
  • Satellite imagery
  • Spectral Variation Hypothesis


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