Natural Resource Scientists' Work Featured in International Outlets

Monday, May 9 2011

A College of Natural Resources research team was featured in "Space Laser Spies for Woodpeckers," an article by BBC news correspondent Jonathan Amos who writes for "News Science and Environment," an online BBC news web site

The article reports on the team's use of a satellite-borne laser to try to predict where woodpeckers might live in state forests. If scientists are able to predict woodpecker habitat based on satellite data, it may also indicate habitat of a higher diversity of forest songbirds or even some mammals and reptiles that use the woodpecker nest holes - information useful in land management and biodiversity planning.

Team members included Patrick Adam, environmental science graduate student; Kerri Vierling, associate professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Lee Vierling, associate professor; and Eva Strand, research scientist, both in the Department of Forest Ecology and Biogeosciences; and Andrew Hudak, research forester with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Work by Lee Vierling and Kerri Vierling was also featured in an Wired Magazine Online article by Jane Lee entitled, “Lasers Help Map Hard-to-Reach Spider Habitat” at  The article reports on how the Vierlings collaborated with a team of German scientists to study ecosystems using remotely sensed laser data.

The Wired article was spurred by a study published in the March issue of Ecological Applications, where the research team used laser data collected from aircraft to create 3-D pictures of the different forest layers in Germany’s Bavarian Forest National Park. By combining LiDAR data with extensive field data about spiders and other information about an area’s vegetation, rainfall patterns and temperature, researchers can get a detailed picture about the habitat characteristics important to a healthy spider population.

“Spiders are the dominant invertebrate predator in many land-based ecosystems. Often, they are beneficial to humans by eating insects like mosquitoes and agricultural pests,” explains Lee Vierling. “An area’s spider species composition can be sensitive to vegetation structure, soil moisture and disturbance, and can indicate the overall level of ecosystem health. The laser data acts like an MRI of the forest, which allowed us to predict where a number of spider species live across that broad landscape.”