US: An Idaho University team is developing techniques to monitor woodpeckers from space. The team has been using a satellite-borne laser to try to predict in which part of a State forest the birds might be living. The Idaho research was presented in San Francisco at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting.
The instrument cannot see individual woodpeckers or trees, but it can determine the key characteristics of a woodland, like how dense it is. Initial work has shown maps built from such data can locate areas favoured by North American pileated woodpeckers.
The scientists want to know where these birds are because they are seen as good indicators of overall bird diversity in a forest.
The team assessed some 20,000 hectares of forest in the northern part of the state around Moscow Mountain. They used data acquired by laser altimeters flown on aircraft and on Nasa’s Icesat spacecraft before its recent retirement (it was de-orbited in August).
“They create homes for lots of other species in the forest setting,” explained Dr Kerri Vierling from the university’s fish and wildlife department. “They make cavities and those cavities are then used by other species for nesting and roosting,” added Dr. Vierling.
Originally conceived as a means to measure the height of ice surfaces in polar regions, the Icesat instrument has also proved hugely effective in gathering information about vegetation cover in other parts of the globe.