Remote Sensing Forage Quality for Browsing Herbivores: A Case Study of Cutting Edge Koala Conservation
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Managing landscapes for conservation requires a capacity to measure habitat quality. Although multiple factors are often responsible for the distribution and abundance of herbivores, spatial variations in the quality and quantity of plant forage are known to be important for many species. While we cannot see the chemical complexity of landscapes with our naked-eye, advances in imaging spectroscopy are making it possible to assess the quality of forage on a landscape-scale. Much research in this area has focused on the ability to estimate foliar nitrogen (N), because N is believed to be a limiting nutrient for many leaf eating animals. However, the total quantity of foliar N does not necessarily reflect the amount of N that can be utilized by herbivores. Available nitrogen (AvailN) is an invitro measure of forage quality that integrates the influence of tannins and fibre on the amount of foliar N that is available for digestion by herbivores. This may be a more meaningful measure of forage quality than total N for the many herbivorous species that are sensitive to the effects of tannins. Our previous research has demonstrated that it is possible to estimate this integrated measure of foliar nutritional quality at an individual tree crown level across multiple tree species using imaging spectroscopy (HyMap). Here we present a case study of how this remote sensing data is being used to help inform landscape management and conservation decisions for an iconic Australian species, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). We review the methods involved in developing maps of integrated measures of foliar nutritional quality for browsing herbivores with airborne imaging spectroscopy data and discuss their applications for wildlife management.