Image: Gaby Stein / Pixabay

A new study, published this week in Bioscience, considers the future of ecology, where technical advancement toward a multidimensional science will continue to fundamentally shift the way we view, explore, and conceptualize the natural world.

The study, co-led by SoGE Associate Professor Dr Lisa Wedding, in collaboration with Auburn University, ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science and other partners, demonstrates that the integration of remotely sensed 3D information holds great potential to provide new ecological insights on land and in the oceans.

Scientific research into 3D digital applications in ecology has grown in the last decade, and landscape and seascape ecologists can now critically frame 3D ecological questions that, until recently, have been challenging to answer across broad study areas. Advances in high-resolution remote sensing systems and data processing are allowing us to model the complex surface of the Earth, both above and below water, with greater detail and accuracy than ever before.

As landscape and seascape ecology looks toward the future, the study notes that there should be a continued progression toward a 3D science that will shift the way ecological patterns and processes are conceptualised. The paper provides key examples of 3D data application in terrestrial and marine environments to illustrate how state-of-the-art advances in ecology have been achieved through novel data fusion, spatial analysis, and visualization. "This highlights the unprecedented opportunity for understanding 3D ecological dynamics and human impacts on land and in oceans, with a view to better inform management decisions," said Dr Lisa Wedding, co-author and PI of the Oxford Seascape Ecology Lab. As a result of this 3D approach, natural resource management may support the development of conservation and management plans and shift the way that policymakers evaluate current and future regulations in a dynamic environment.

Future research applications in the marine environment should focus on addressing the challenges associated with integrating the dynamic oceanographic information into maps capable of capturing 3D variability in the environment over time (fourth dimension). 3D-capable data sources have wide ranging ecological applications and help in estimating carbon sequestration, quantifying habitat structure, mapping ecosystem services, and measuring and modeling consequences of climate change.