Shaun Levick

Environmental Monitoring and Modelling

Unit description (ENV306/506)

This unit brings together the theoretical concepts of landscape ecology with spatial analysis techniques from remote sensing and GIS to address landscape scale applications of relevance to natural resource management.

Landscape ecology is concerned with spatial patterns, in particular spatial heterogeneity across landscapes, the spatial and temporal arrangement of features, and the implications of this patterning for ecosystems. This unit takes a practical approach to look at how landscape analysis can be used to quantify pattern to generate land cover and habitat maps. The focus is on using digital image processing techniques and spatial pattern analysis using local environmental challenges.

Important issues such as scale, data integration errors and natural variability in landscapes are addressed in terms of classifying landscape features and identifying temporal changes.

Note: Intensive week attendance is not compulsory for external students.

Required readings

Fundamental landscape ecology

  1. Turner, M. G. 1989. Landscape Ecology: The Effect of Pattern on Process. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 20:171–197.
  2. Pickett, S. T. A., and M. L. Cadenasso. 1995. Landscape Ecology: Spatial Heterogeneity in Ecological Systems. Science 269:331–334.
  3. Levin, S. A. 1992. The Problem of Pattern and Scale in Ecology:The Robert H. MacArthur Award Lecture. Ecology 73:1943.
  4. Wu, J., and O. L. Loucks. 1995. From balance of nature to hierarchical patch dynamics: a paradigm shift in ecology. Quarterly review of biology 70:439–466.
  5. Wu, J., and R. Hobbs. 2002. Key issues and research priorities in landscape ecology: an idiosyncratic synthesis. Landscape Ecology 17:355–365.
  6. Scholes, R. J. 2017. Taking the Mumbo Out of the Jumbo: Progress Towards a Robust Basis for Ecological Scaling. Ecosystems 20:4–13.

Remote sensing for ecosystem monitoring

  1. Newton, A. C., R. A. Hill, C. Echeverría, D. Golicher, J. M. Rey Benayas, L. Cayuela, and S. A. Hinsley. 2009. Remote sensing and the future of landscape ecology. Progress in Physical Geography 33:528–546.
  2. Willis, K. S. 2015. Remote sensing change detection for ecological monitoring in United States protected areas. Biological Conservation 182:233–242.
  3. Corbane, C., S. Lang, K. Pipkins, S. Alleaume, M. Deshayes, V. E. García Millán, T. Strasser, J. Vanden Borre, S. Toon, and F. Michael. 2015. Remote sensing for mapping natural habitats and their conservation status – New opportunities and challenges. International Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation 37:7–16.
  4. Lawley, V., M. Lewis, K. Clarke, and B. Ostendorf. 2016. Site-based and remote sensing methods for monitoring indicators of vegetation condition: An Australian review. Ecological Indicators 60:1273–1283.

The new era of cloud-based processing

  1. Joshi, A. R., E. Dinerstein, E. Wikramanayake, M. L. Anderson, D. Olson, B. S. Jones, J. Seidensticker, S. Lumpkin, M. C. Hansen, N. C. Sizer, C. L. Davis, S. Palminteri, and N. R. Hahn. 2016. Tracking changes and preventing loss in critical tiger habitat. Science Advances, vol 2, no 4.
  2. Pekel, J.-F., A. Cottam, N. Gorelick, and A. S. Belward. 2016. High-resolution mapping of global surface water and its long-term changes. Nature 540:418–422.
  3. Hansen, M. C., P. V Potapov, R. Moore, M. Hancher, S. A. Turubanova, A. Tyukavina, D. Thau, S. V Stehman, S. J. Goetz, T. R. Loveland, A. Kommareddy, A. Egorov, L. Chini, C. O. Justice, and J. R. G. Townshend. 2013. High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change. Science 342:850-853.

Assessment Items

Assessment 1

Due Date: 6 Oct 2019

Contribution to unit grade: 20%

Length: short answer as required

While you are reading the designated articles, complete the following questions. These questions are designed to stimulate you to think about the unit content and demonstrate the knowledge and understanding you have acquired on key topics related to the theory of environmental monitoring and modelling.

  • It has been 25 years since Simon Levin discussed the problem of pattern and scale in ecology in his seminal paper published in Ecology in 1992. Are these challenges still relevant today? Robert Scholes reflects further on scale issues in Ecosystems in 2017.

After reading these papers (and the other papers in the fundamental section), discuss the implications of scale for monitoring environmental change (500 words).

  • Evaluate the role that remote sensing can play in the analysis of landscape structure and dynamics. How is it currently used, what are the limitations, and where is the potential for growth? (500 words)

Assessment 2

Due Date: 27 Oct 2019

Contribution to unit grade: 10%

Length: 500-1000 words

Three application papers utilising Google Earth Engine processing have been provided in your reading list. After reading all three publications, select your favourite and write a critical summary of its findings. Your task in the critical summary is to identify and summarize the main scientific findings and supportive evidence in the text. These fall into four categories:

  • What is the question? What questions are the authors seeking to answer? What specific ideas are being tested in the scientific study?
  • What was done? How did the authors answer the questions posed? What methods were used?
  • What are the results? What observations and data are presented? What are the conclusions? What is the evidence for the conclusions?
  • Why is it important? Why is the answer to the scientific question meaningful? How general are the findings?

Assessment 3

Due Date: 10 Nov 2019

Contribution to unit grade: 30%

Length: 1000-1500 words

Each of the practicals presented in this unit will contain questions relating to the theory and application of remote sensing and GIS for landscape analysis. A practical exercise will be provided during the Intensive Practical week, and students are required to submit their report at the end of the week following completion of the intensive practical component of the unit.

Electronic copies of the exercises will be available under the 'practicals' link. The report should be submitted as a single PDF document.

Assessment 4

Due Date: 24 Nov 2019

Contribution to unit grade: 40%

Length: 3000 words (ENV306) or 5000 words (ENV506)

Complete the image processing and spatio-temporal analysis required to address the monitoring challenge that you have been tasked with, and construct a scientific report to communicate your findings.

Students will be required to complete this work outside of the hours that have been allocated for the intensive mode practical delivery, but we will dedicate one afternoon to starting the assignment.

Your final report should be formatted as a submission to the scientific journal Remote Sensing using this Word template or this LaTeX template. If you have not used LaTex before, use the Word template and chat to me if you interested in learning LaTeX.

  • Abstract - 250 word summary
  • Introduction – include a brief literature review on the problem at hand, the aims and objectives
  • Methods - include descriptions of datasets, processing steps and analysis applied
  • Results - include appropriate maps, tables and charts to illustrate your findings
  • Discussion - discuss your findings (linking back to the objectives) including any limitations of the study and suggestions for improvement
  • Conclusion - succinct summary of main findings
  • References

Students should also refer closely to the grading criteria (ENV306 and ENV506) when writing this report.

Intensive practical week

We will be using the Google Earth Engine cloud-based processing environment for our practical labs.

Intensive week schedule

Day Morning Afternoon
Monday Introduction to Google Earth Engine Vegetation and terrain mapping
Tuesday Time-series analysis Climate variables
Wednesday Deforestation mapping Surface water dynamics
Thursday Working with vector data Communicating results
Friday Mangrove die-back challenge Mangrove die-back challenge