Scientists from the University of Porto have created a tool capable of mapping endangered species in the Montesinho Natural Park, in the Trás-os-Montes region. It is a new geographic information system online (WebSIG) that promises to act as an early warning, identifying changes in the quality of the habitats of all species recorded in the Montesinho/Nogueira special protection area, which is part of the Natura 2000 Network.
“We are now determining by mathematical methods what are the preferences of each species in terms of habitat. In conservation, this work is often done using climate data – data from 1950 to 2000, for example. but we will analyze species preferences over time using satellite images”explains to PÚBLICO Neftalí Sillero, researcher responsible for this project at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto (FCUP).
The first stage, which consisted of mapping the distribution of species, has already been completed. Who clicks today interactive map You can already see where there are occurrences of the Iberian wolf, for example. To do so, just select the taxonomic group (mammals, in this case), the genus (kennels) and, finally, the species (canis lupus). This digital cartography not only covers mammals (42 in total), but also 13 amphibians, 20 reptiles, 153 birds and 1058 vascular plants.
The next step is to analyze habitat trends for each species over time. “We use a series of mathematical tools that will link the species distribution data with the satellite images. We know that some species occur in a specific area, so let’s look at the quality of the habitats where they are”, says Neftalí Sillero, in a video call with PÚBLICO.
In the case of the Iberian wolf, it is already known that it is losing quality in some places, but it is gaining in others, such as in the Maçãs River valley, exemplifies Neftalí Sillero, who works as principal investigator at the Center for Research in Geospatial Sciences of the FCUP.
Neftalí Sillero It isexpect to have the tool completed within a year. For this purpose, the team is using the platform Google Earth Engine, which works as an “image catalog” that incorporates analytical tools. It also uses data from the Modis satellite (Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) from the US space agency NASA.
“Modis is a satellite that passes over the same location twice a day”, explains the researcher, and the images undergo a series of corrections to mitigate the impact of atmospheric conditions. If it is a very humid day, for example, the data must be rectified.
Observatory of Biodiversity from Montesinho
As part of the Montesinho Biodiversity Observatory project (MontObEO), the creation of this map allows anyone to visualize, analyze and interpret biodiversity data from Montesinho Park. The tool can be useful for specialists in the area of conservation and the environment, since the information provided will allow understanding relationships, patterns and trends.
“We are going to analyze the trends and inform the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) which species have the worst conservation status, which are the ones with the most negative trends, that is, those that are losing habitat quality over time. We are going to put together all the species on a map that will represent which areas are losing the most habitat quality. ICNF can use this map to maximize conservation effort”, says the scientist.
Contacted by PÚBLICO, the ICNF said it had “the best expectations” in relation to the tool being developed by the University of Porto. From the beginning, the institute accompanied MontObEO – a project financed with 250 thousand euros by the Science and Technology Foundation –, sharing with the team all the information related to the registration of species of fauna and flora.
“The analysis model developed by MontObEO will serve the purposes of directing conservation actions towards portions of the territory of the Natural Park of Montesinho that are more vulnerable to climate changeto direct knowledge and monitoring efforts more efficiently, and to evaluate the success and impact of the habitat restoration projects that the ICNF promotes”, says the institute in a note sent to PÚBLICO.