a new tool to better map plant species

a new tool to better map plant species
a new tool to better map plant species

Scientists measure the state of biodiversity through field observations and computer extrapolations. By capturing a species’ preferred habitat, i.e. its ecological niche, as well as local environmental conditions, they can create distribution maps using algorithms.

Scientists from the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) had the idea to take advantage of the current craze for citizen science. The possibilities for observing and identifying plants and sharing this data using applications have indeed increased significantly in recent years.

“Thanks to observations from the general public, we have access to information much greater than what we could obtain by going into the field,” comments Philipp Brun, lead author of this study published in the journal Nature Communications .

The field of possibilities

Based on 6.7 million plant observations and using artificial intelligence, the WSL has developed a unique biodiversity model which calculates the distribution of 2,477 plant species in Switzerland. It shows at a distance of 25 meters and day after day which plants can be observed where and how this picture changes over the seasons.

For certain species, it makes it possible, for example, to estimate the probable date of their flowering. The study shows that this deep learning model is more accurate than approaches used so far.

The WSL tool can, for example, indicate which tree species are most likely to be present in which forest. The calculations also take into account expected changes due to climate change.

Crucial quantity of observations

The model is most accurate where very many observations are available. Philipp Brun is convinced of the potential of this new tool: “It is very possible that this seasonal model of biodiversity will soon become part of the standard instruments of ecological research,” believes the researcher, quoted Monday in a WSL press release.

The biodiversity crisis is one of society’s major current challenges. Plants are largely necessary for the structure of most ecosystems and perform essential ecosystem functions.

It is therefore very important to understand in detail the distribution patterns of plant species and their possible responses to environmental changes. Only in this way can effective and sustainable measures be taken to protect biodiversity.

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