Bio­di­ver­sity's play­mate

Clouds play a key role in de­cid­ing an­i­mal and plant habi­tats

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment have been chron­i­cally ob­structed by the dif­fi­culty in pre­cisely mark­ing habi­tats and de­scrib­ing bio­di­ver­sity. But it has been found that track­ing the wa­ter cy­cle through clouds could help iden­tify spe­cific an­i­mal and plant habi­tats. Re­searchers from Yale and Buf­falo uni­ver­si­ties of the US have iden­ti­fied sizes and lo­ca­tions of some im­por­tant habi­tats us­ing cloud cover data.

Clouds are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as rain­fall, sun­light and sur­face tem­per­a­ture. Any change in these fac­tors will im­pact cloud. Since these en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors are cen­tral in de­ter­min­ing ar­eas where plants and an­i­mals can sur­vive, sci­en­tists have made use of cloud cover data to learn more about habi­tats and the bio­di­ver­sity they har­bour.

The re­searchers used 15 years of data from NASA's Aqua and Terra satel­lites to build a data­base of two cloud cover images per day for al­most ev­ery square kilo­me­tre of the earth. Analysing the data, they found that ob­served vari­a­tions in the cloud cover sharply matched the pe­riph­eries of biomes that were home to unique species.

Look­ing at the vari­a­tions and pat­terns in cloud cover, re­searchers could pre­dict habi­tats spe­cific to mon­tane wood-creeper, a bird from South Amer­ica, and king pro­tea, a plant from South Africa, in un­prece­dented de­tail. The study was pub­lished in PLoSBi­ol­ogy in March this year.


One can pre­dict the habi­tat of king pro­tea look­ing at pat­terns in cloud cover

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