Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences - Biogeography

Spy satellites reveal species’ declines


Catalina Munteanu, Johannes Kamp, Mihai Daniel Nita, Nadja Klein, Benjamin M Kraemer, Daniel Müller, Alyona Koshkina, Alexander V. Prishchepov & Tobias Kuemmerle


Summary: Species’ responses to land use conversions can occur on timescales not previously observed for mammals. Marmot burrow densities declined for over 60 years following agricultural conversions. To demonstrate these remarkable long-term responses, we relied on a novel data source for conservation - Corona spy satellite imagery from the Cold War.


Abstract: Agricultural expansion drives biodiversity loss globally, but impact assessments are biased 46 towards recent time periods. This can lead to a gross underestimation of species declines in 47 response to habitat loss, especially when species declines are gradual and occur over long time 48 periods. Using Cold War spy satellite images (Corona), we show that a grassland keystone 49 species, the bobak marmot (Marmota bobak), continues to respond to agricultural expansion that 50 happened more than 50 years ago. Although burrow densities of the bobak marmot today are 51 highest in croplands, densities declined most strongly in areas that were persistently used as 52 croplands since the 1960s. This response to historical agricultural conversion spans roughly eight 53 marmot generations and suggests the longest recorded response of a mammal species to 54 agricultural expansion. We also found evidence for remarkable philopatry: nearly half of all 55 burrows retained their exact location since the 1960s, and this was most pronounced in 56 grasslands. Our results stress the need for farsighted decisions, because contemporary land 57 management will affect biodiversity decades into the future. Finally, our work pioneers the use 58 of Corona historical Cold War spy satellite imagery for ecology. This vastly underused global 59 remote sensing resource provides a unique opportunity to expand the time horizon of broad-scale 60 ecological studies.


Link to the manuscript: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.2897


Citation: Munteanu, C., Kamp, J., Nita, M. D., Klein, N., Kraemer, B.M., Müller, D., Koshkina, A., Prishchepov, A.V., Kuemmerle, T. (2020): Cold War spy satellite images reveal long-term declines of a philopatric keystone species 2 in response to cropland expansion. Royal Society, 287. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.2897


Photo: Alyona Koshkina