In the face of the growing challenges brought about by human activities, effective planning and decision-making in biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, restoration, and sustainable development are urgently needed. Ecological models can play a key role in supporting this need and helping to safeguard the natural assets that underpin human wellbeing and support life on land and below water (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; SDG 15 & 14). The urgency and complexity of safeguarding forest (SDG 15.2) and mountain ecosystems (SDG 15.4), for example, and halting decline in biodiversity (SDG 15.5) in the Anthropocene requires a re-envisioning of how ecological models can best support the comprehensive assessments of biodiversity and its change that are required for successful action. A key opportunity to advance ecological modeling for both predictive and explanatory purposes arises through a collaboration between ecologists and the Earth observation community, and a close integration of remote sensing and species distribution models. Remote sensing products have the capacity to provide continuous spatiotemporal information about key factors driving the distribution of organisms, therefore improving both the use and accuracy of these models for management and planning. Here we first survey the literature on remote sensing data products available to ecological modelers interested in improving predictions of species range dynamics under global change. We specifically explore the key biophysical processes underlying the distribution of species in the Anthropocene including climate variability, changes in land cover, and disturbances. We then discuss potential synergies between the ecological modeling and remote sensing communities, and highlight opportunities to close the data and conceptual gaps that currently impede a more effective application of remote sensing for the monitoring and modeling of ecological systems. Specific attention is given to how potential collaborations between the two communities could lead to new opportunities to report on progress towards global agendas - such as the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development of the United Nations or the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework of the Convention for Biological Diversity, and help guide conservation and management strategies towards sustainability.
Remote Sensing of Environment, Volume 239, 15 March 2020,